Sunday, August 14, 2011

Andrews Living Arts Studio: Angels in America Part 1 (2 reviews)

Andrews Living Arts Studio opened its production of Angels in America: Part 1 Millenium Approaches on August 12, 2011.

Robert D. Nation directed a cast that included Larry Buzzeo, Larry Brooks, Brian McCormick, Elizabeth Aspen, Gilbert Lenchus, James Gillard, Josh Harding, Finley Polynice, and Naureen Chhipa.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Andrews Living Arts Studio deserves credit for attempting the epic masterpiece Angels In America, Part 1: Millenium Approaches. Unfortunately, the laudable desire to conquer mountains doesn’t protect you from falling into crevasses.

And here’s the really weird phenomenon: While the production is barely mediocre with flashes of competency, somehow the poetry, the resonances, the genius of Tony Kushner’s script came through more clearly than in any of four earlier productions I’ve seen.
Maybe it’s because director Robert D. Nation has paced this so leisurely that the dialogue, usually delivered rapid-fire, flows by slowly enough to process. Or maybe it’s because each past encounter has added to my accrued understanding of this episodic, disjointed pinball game bouncing between reality and fantasyland.
...only Larry Buzzeo as the cowardly lover Louis, Larry Brooks as the AIDS-afflicted Prior Walter, Finley Polynice as the flamboyant nurse Belize and Josh Harding in various roles strafe by with unassailably heartfelt but barely passable performances – and even then not consistently. Worse, they are never affecting, let alone transporting.
And yet, go figure, I’ve never appreciated so fully the resonating metaphor and deft imagery in Kushner’s language or his brilliant set up of a world slowly cracking apart in anticipation of a cosmic rebirth.  That near-poetry is what truly gives Angels its heft and gravitas and reputation. It’s certainly not Kushner’s weird,  episodic plot that provides no contextual explanation whatsoever for a play that encompasses Mormons and The Black Plague.
Andrews and Nation should be commended for their artistic taste and ambition: Angels and its last show Equus are challenging masterpieces. But ALA has been unable to cast the shows with actors whose skill levels are equal to the vision. We’ll keep pulling for them.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...the very intimacy and Brechtian theatricality of Angels in America make potent, small-scale professional productions of the play quite possible. Coral Gables’ New Theatre proved that in 1997, winning four Carbonell Awards (including best play) for its powerfully acted two-part production. Now, Fort Lauderdale’s tiny Andrews Living Arts Studio is tackling Millennium Approaches, with less impressive results.
Using 11 actors in the play’s 17 roles, director Robert D. Nation achieves a better result than he did with Moises Kauffman’s The Laramie Project, though some of that improvement is due to the power, insight and humor of Kushner’s remarkable script. The performances range from good to subpar, though there are more than a few moments when the play potently coalesces on the theater’s small black-box stage.
Bellowing and raging, Gilbert Lenchus chews up what little scenery there is as Cohn. Finley Polynice is a warm and artfully tart Belize, Prior’s prior partner. Buzzeo is a persuasive Louis, and Aspen’s spacy Harper amuses rather than stirring empathy. As Joe, McCormack is a tall cipher, one who tends to waggle his chin from side to side as he speaks. Brooks has his moments as Prior, though his lack of projection (a common flaw in this cast, Lenchus excepted) and rushed speech keep his lines from landing as they should.

Andrews Living Arts manages a visual wow of an ending as the Angel (Naureen Chhipa) finally appears to Prior, after much whispering and the flapping of giant wings. Too bad that what precedes it isn’t equally impactful.
Angels in America: Part 1 Millenium Approaches plays at Andrews Living Arts Studio through September 4, 2011.

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