Saving Grace

Ambitious Angels in America lands at Bas Bleu.

Director Laura Jones has assembled an excellent and, in a couple of cases, inspired cast. I wondered if she'd asked her actors to put aside ego in favor of the text, because most of them did. There is something wonderfully unassuming about Laura Norman's interpretation of Harper -- a role that could easily become irritating. Norman never sounds a false note, and her silences are filled with meaning. As written, the dying Prior is often whiny, snappish or unreasonable, but he has intellect and dignity, too. Todd Coulter plays all of this fully, and he also communicates the way a chill creeps around the heart when the angel of death approaches.

Leonard Barrett Jr. plays Belize, a wise, recovering drag queen who is also, being a nurse, a guide to the land of shadows. His acting is playful, self-aware without being self-conscious. Sometimes it feels doubled somehow, acting on top of acting, as if Barrett were both performing and holding up a puppet of himself performing. It's a risky way to go. The self-awareness could easily slide into empty posturing, but it never does, and his performance is both touching and entertaining. When Belize tells Prior, without sentimentality or undue emphasis, that he'll be with him all the way, you find your eyes filling.

If Belize and the Angel are both messengers, so is the soup-slurping homeless woman who reluctantly offers directions to Joe's mother -- a strict Mormon who's come to New York after Joe has confessed his homosexuality to her. This homeless woman is played by Wendy Ishii, who also plays a nurse and the Angel. Some actors radiate energy into the audience -- which Ishii can do -- but she's also magnificent when she hunches and mutters, drawing the audience in toward her.

Todd Coulter in Angels in America: Part I: 
Millennium Approaches.
William A. Cotton
Todd Coulter in Angels in America: Part I: Millennium Approaches.

Details

Presented in rotation with Part II: Perestroika by Bas Bleu Theatre, in collaboration with OpenStage Theatre and Company, through November 20, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins

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Bruce K. Freestone's Cohn seems to have a shiny, metallic exterior, a kind of light-gray gloss that repels human empathy. It's an effective performance. Denise Burson Freestone, who plays the rabbi at the play's beginning, is also effective as Joe's mother, Hannah. Joe himself is played by Darren R. Schroader with a kindly modesty, and Kurt Brighton gives Louis all the nervous intellectuality I'd expect -- though one never really feels the love and sensual desire that supposedly flow between him and Prior.

This is Bas Bleu's first performance in its new space, a few blocks from the downtown area where the old theater was situated. The surroundings are more desolate, but the building is large enough for expansion and experimentation. Angels in America makes for an ambitious opening. It will be fascinating to see how the characters evolve as the cast navigates the currents of Part II: Perestroika, and just what the Angel will have to tell them.

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