“Angels in America – Part Two – Perestroika” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ June 15, 2015



Nearly Naked Theatre, The Hormel Theatre at Phoenix Theatre

Phoenix, AZ

After a disappointing “Angels in America – Part One – Millennium Approaches” last weekend, Nearly Naked Theatre’s production of “Part Two – Perestroika” is a major improvement.  Why is the second part of Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning two-part play staged and acted by the same people so much better?

Kushner’s second installment handles the devastating AIDS crisis and its impact on the gay community more responsibly.  “Perestroika” acknowledges that AIDS doesn’t have to kill even if it can’t be cured.  Kushner also approaches the dire situation with more humor so the second part doesn’t leave the awful stigma that AIDS introduced into gay life.

Kushner’s less melodramatic theatrics in “Perestroika” makes it easier for audiences to explore the AIDS situation and the more relaxed script helps the performers in this production develop their characters with more definition than in Part One.

“Angels in America” is still challenging to watch since both parts run almost seven hours.  That’s two very long sits to discover what Kushner claims the disease wrought on gays.  “Perestroika” starts with pushy lawyer Roy M. Cohn facing a miserable AIDS death while Prior Walter lives constructively with the disease.  Stalwart Mormon Joe Pitt finally realizes he’s gay as he lets his harassed wife, Harper, develop a new life.  Other characters cope with the disease and find happier lives as the play also explores the impact of dreams on lives.

Pat Russel is again forcefully obnoxious as the arrogantly unpleasant gay lawyer Roy Cohn.  Mike Largent is a winning Louis Ironson, Prior Walters’ lover who abandons him when he acquires AIDS.  Drew Swaine is a sincere Prior and Vickie Hall makes Harper a more understandable wife to Joe.  KatiBelle Collins is especially snide to Cohn as Ethel Rosenberg, a woman Cohn treated hatefully.  Brandi Bigley is winning as Joe’s easily shocked Mother who transforms into a caring woman, Raheem De’Angelo delivers a heartfelt but tough nurse, Belize, and Thomas Hicks struggles honestly with Joe’s personal battle to become a gay man.

Damon Dering’s second part staging is more focused and the set telescopes how society crowds at life forcing many to do things they don’t believe.

It’s hard to see “Angels in America – Part Two – Perestroika” without first digesting “Part One” so you understand the characters, their lives, and the impact of AIDS.  The stronger second part suggests that “Part One” might grow richer as this acting ensemble becomes more comfortable with the dramatically flamboyant “Part One.”  “Angels in America – Part Two – Perestroika” continues in repertory with “Part One” through June 20.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151.

Grade: C