March 30, 2019
I remember that I had watched "Angels in America" when it was first staged in Music Museum back in 1995. I recall Michael Williams starred as Prior Walters, Joshua Spafford was Joe Pitt, with Monique Wilson as Harper Pitt. That monumental production by New Voice Company, staging both Part 1 and Part 2 in 7 marathon hours, was directed by a 25 year-old Bobby Garcia.
Bobby Garcia, now pushing 50 years old, more mature and definitely more experienced in all things theater, had decided to restage and direct "Angels" again as the opening salvo for the 20th anniversary celebration of his own Atlantis theater company. This time, he wisely chose to present the show the way it was originally staged, Parts 1 and 2 as two separate productions, to be presented one year apart.
It was late 1985 in New York City. Prior Walter shows his boyfriend Louis Ironson the Kaposi Sarcoma lesion in his arm, and confessed that he had AIDS. A macho, brash and influential lawyer Roy Cohn does not accept he had AIDS, a disease associated with homosexuals, instead calling his disease liver cancer. A mild-mannered Mormon clerk of court Joe Pitt struggles with his delusional pill-popping wife Harper and his closeted homosexual urges.
Topper Fabregas brought us along Prior Walter's painful journey from the fabulous queen to the frail shadow AIDS reduced him to, a level deeper than where he took us as Felix Turner dying of the same disease in "A Normal Heart" in 2015. Nelsito Gomez varied the Jewish New Yorker character he did in "My Name is Asher Lev" in 2017, and made his Louis here an insecure, nervous chatterbox. Art Acuna was an acting powerhouse as Roy Cohn, totally subsuming the fearsome arrogance of his character. Markki Stroem was perfectly cast as Joe Pitt, clean-cut boy-next-door, with a secret burning his soul. Andoy Ranay looked and felt miscast in his roles, notably lacking diva sass as Belize, Prior's ex-drag queen nurse.
Angeli Bayani can as delightful as she was disturbing in her portrayal of Harper Pitt and her various hallucinations, but you just need to get over the jarring initial physical mismatch between her and Stroem, who played her husband Joe. Cherie Gil was clearly enjoying her various roles, first as an old rabbi, then as a trusted male doctor, the ghost of Roy's former client, and her main role as Hannah Pitt, Joe's conservative mother. Pinky Amador shuttled around in more minor roles -- a dutiful Nurse Emily, a Mormon real estate agent Sister Ella, a psychotic streetperson, and the Angel, whom we only hear ominously during the show, but only see in her full glory during the finale (and more in Part 2).
Faust Peneyra had two sets of living rooms with multiple lamps onstage side by side, to enable the smooth transition of parallel scenes between the apartment of Prior and the apartment of the Pitts. Roy's office table and Prior's hospital bed were wheeled into center stage during scenes that focused on them. In the background, GA Fallarme's projections of long empty hallways, grim New York cityscapes, or idyllic Salt Lake City, transport the scene to various settings accordingly. Jonjon Villareal's imaginative play of lights defined the dramatic highlights perfectly. Glendfford Malimban's sound design was mostly subtle, occassionally coming to fore with the wintry winds announcing snowfall or the angel wings flapping in midair.
Tony Kushner's original material is very 1980s with its gay street lingo and repeated references to Ronald Reagan, some of which may fly over our heads. However, there is no denying how strongly it captured the prevalent fear about AIDS as the new plague and scourge among homosexual men of that time. This play was not a total downer though. There was welcome relief of humor here and there to temper the pervasively depressing mood. Despite the three hour running time, director Bobby Garcia kept the show going at a riveting pace, you won't feel its length, and you'll look forward to what will happen next in Part 2 (coming next year).
ANGELS IN AMERICA PART ONE: MILLENNIAL APPROACHES runs from March 22 to April 7, 2019 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza in Makati City. Showtimes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 pm. with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at ₱3,500, ₱2,500 and ₱1,500. Rated R-18 because of profanity and implied sexual situations.