The Angel of the Waters statue in New York City’s Central Park Bethesda Terrace, designed from the Biblical account of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda with healing powers to cleanse of disease, has become associated with “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” with playwright Tony Kushner’s clever references in his groundbreaking two-play masterpiece, one of the most honored American plays in history.
“The angel statue is a physical representation of everything in this play,” said JayC Stoddard, Utah Repertory Theater Company artistic director. “All of the themes tied together in a single idea of stationary movement. Stillness that has wings. A universal healing love that belongs to everyone, without boundaries. Eternal and fixed, but never stagnant.”
Stoddard directs Part 1 of “Angels in America,” Millennium Approaches, at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center May 30-June 9, with the Part 2, Perestroika, to be produced next year by the same cast and creative team. The epic work, which demands to be revisited again and again, spans the Reagan-Bush eras and spirals around the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York, weaving the lives of fictional and historical characters into a feverish web of social, political and sexual revelations.
“The play was written at the height of the AIDS crisis, and used that moment in our history as a narrative point, but it is not at all what this play is about,” he said. “It is so much more than that. Racism. Abandonment. What happens when your religion and your repression collide and how that affects the people closest to us. How to be our best selves in a world designed to crush us. These are just a very few ideas presented to us in this work. Concepts that will never stop being relevant.”
As part of the fanfare at its 1991 Broadway premiere, “Angels in America” received a Tony Award for Best Play, the Pulitzer for Best Drama and multiple other awards. A recent revival, also a Tony winner starring Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey, and Lee Pace, was proclaimed a “brilliant, maddening and necessary masterwork” by the New Yorker.
Part of the brilliance of “Angels in America,” along with the interwoven storylines and richness of ideas, is its remarkably drawn characters.
“Kushner delivers characters that are all flawed. Not one of them is all good or all bad, but each takes a journey of potential growth, or damnation, and we get to slowly unravel the destination of those journeys,” Stoddard said.
“Every single day of this rehearsal process has been filled with discovery. In an attempt to unravel the most honest way to tell this story, I have been able to look at these characters, and understand something deeper in myself. I believe that any audience member who takes this journey with us will share a similar experience.”
Tickets to Utah Rep’s production of “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” are available at www.artsaltlake.org/production/angels-in-america-part-1-millennium-approaches.