Angels in America: Part I: Millennium Approaches. Tony Kushner's Angels in America is a complex, seven-hour masterwork about the lives of two couples and one quintessentially evil historical figure, and the inextricable way in which politics, history and private life intertwine. There's also an angel, along with other supernatural and hallucinatory manifestations. In Part I: Millennium Approaches, she's constantly threatening to erupt into the action until, with a great crash, she does. The play starts with a rabbi speaking over the coffin of an elderly Jewish woman, an immigrant from Russia, who "carried the old world on her back" to America and bequeathed it to her descendants. Louis, a secular Jew who nonetheless identifies strongly with his people, leaves his AIDS-ravaged lover, Prior, and is tormented by guilt. Roy Cohn, the prosecutor whose sleazy machinations ensured Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's 1953 execution, is a different kind of Jew altogether: a blustering bully who feels no guilt because he's essentially rootless. When Cohn develops AIDS, however, his agony is witnessed by Ethel Rosenberg herself, a nice Jewish mother returned from the dead. The AIDS epidemic is front and center in Angels and fuels a sense of impending apocalypse. The break-up of Prior and Louis is paralleled by the troubles of a second couple, Joe and the pill-popping, hallucinating Harper, both of them Mormons. Despite its serious themes, Angels in America is actually almost cozy, filled with the familiar rhythms of gay and Jewish New York humor, and director Laura Jones has assembled an excellent and sometimes inspired cast. Presented in rotation with Part II: Perestroika by Bas Bleu Theatre in collaboration with OpenStage Theatre and Company through November 20, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed October 21.
Angels in America: Part II: Perestroika. She has a cosmology, the angel of this play. As we learn in the second part, she wants to hold back change and persuade Prior, the character whose struggle with AIDS has called her forth, that he must help her do it. God was driven out of heaven by the eternal restlessness of the human race, and she and her fellow angels long for His return. Angels explores the contrast between movement and immutability in several ways -- metaphorical, political, psychological. For Prior, the end of change can only mean death, and he isn't going for it. He wants more life, no matter how much grief and terror it brings. By the play's end, two miracles have occurred: Prior has acquired the drugs that will stave off his death, and AIDS has begun its uneven progression from a usually fatal disease to one that can be managed almost indefinitely. And Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev have met in Reykjavik, Iceland, and come close to an agreement on the elimination of nuclear stockpiles. Perestroika is directed by Terry Dodd and retains the same wonderful cast as the first half of the production. Presented in rotation with Part I: Millennium Approaches by Bas Bleu Theatre in collaboration with OpenStage Theatre and Company through November 20, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed November 4.
Dirty Story. John Patrick Shanley's play is an allegory about the struggle between Israel and Palestine. It begins, however, as an urbane treatise on writing and the function of narrative, as an eager young graduate student, Wanda, interrogates Brutus, an older writer she admires about his opinion on her novel. That interrogation morphs into a sadomasochistic sexual relationship. Wanda tells Brutus she has never been able to settle down anywhere because her roommates always dislike her, and she dreams of a permanent home. Brutus tricks Wanda into donning a blond curly wig so she'll look like Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline, and then he pounces, tying her up and threatening her with a chainsaw. All of a sudden, a great lolloping cowboy tromps to the rescue. "Call me Israel," Wanda says, pointing the cowboy's gun at Brutus's head. From now on, Brutus and Wanda will struggle for control, each asserting a historic claim to the apartment. Expertly staged, acted and directed, this is a hot, angry, wicked, funny play that keeps both your intellect and your emotions on the boil. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 13. Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 28.
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The Misanthrope. Nagle Jackson is an intensely visual director. For The Misanthrope, he used the talents of set designer Vicki Smith, lighting designer Peter Maradudin and the late costumer Andrew V. Yelusich, and the production is flat-out gorgeous. Almost all of the acting is impeccable, and Richard Wilbur's rhymed translation is always amusing and sometimes almost touching -- as when Alceste expresses his love for Celimene, or Eliante muses on what would happen if people in her world were simply kinder to each other. The Misanthrope, Alceste, is played by Jamie Horton. He is a man who loathes insincerity and resolves always to tell the truth. He is also in love with a lying little bitch, Celimene. When he refuses to praise a sonnet written by a dopey but powerful officer, Alceste brings misfortune on himself; when he insists that Celimene choose him over her other lovers, he ensures his own unhappiness. Horton finds the man's vulnerability as well as his arrogance, and Ruth Eglsaer poises Celimene somewhere between ravishing beauty and dark, willful anger. This is a witty, elegant, touched-with-feeling production. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 13, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 4.