“Angels in America – Part One – Millennium Approaches” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ June 8, 2015


Nearly Naked Theatre, The Hormel Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Tony Kushner’s two-part “Angels in America” opened in 1991 at the height of the AIDS crisis.  It chronicled what HIV did to the then closeted American gay community and how the initial years of the medical calamity devastated homosexuals.

After 20 years, more plays and documentaries tell about this alternative lifestyle.  “Angels in America” isn’t as fresh or vibrant as it once was in describing a situation changed dramatically by medical advances.  The once edgy play is now a historical glimpse into society’s initial handling of the disease and the subculture.

The play still tells dramatically about the historic reactions to gays and HIV.  To do the play justice, it must be performed by a superb acting ensemble who make audiences care about the characters and the discoveries each makes about their life.  That’s not the case with the laggardly directed and poorly acted Nearly Naked Theatre production based on the first part’s opening this past weekend.

An eight-person acting ensemble essays 26 unique roles but these performers aren’t capable of making these characters dynamic or different.  The actors don’t measure up to the show’s unreal demands.

It is impossible for audiences to get into the situations these characters find themselves in or to relate to the diverse situations the play outlines.  Characters are based on a Mormon population that is often intolerant of gays and their lifestyle.  Many characters are hypocritical and include a married man submerging gay feelings, a woman who wants to follow normal marriage dictates but subdues hypocrisy of the institution, and a myriad of homosexual stereotypes who represent all gays.

Director Damon Dering lets the massive work drag through its complex view without giving it any spark.  Most significantly, he doesn’t make individual characters stand out to keep audiences interested.  Some of the problem rests with the actors who are not up to the demands of these characters.  Only Pat Russel’s  wacky Roy M. Cohn, a closested gay who is forced to come out, delivers a believable character.  Especially weak are Thomas Hicks’ Joe Pitt, a seemingly normal husband who tries to bury gay feelings and Vickie Hall who plays his mousy wife, Harper.

The unit set restricts action with cramped playing areas that must serve multiple locales.  Nearly Naked Theatre tackled a huge challenge with “Angels in America” and fails with the play’s first part.  Using the same acting ensemble, the play’s second part premieres this weekend where it will run in repertory with Part One until the production closes June 20.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151.

Grade: D