Many people now routinely consume television series in marathon benders, blowing through DVDs or Netflix downloads in a few evenings or a weekend. It’s that sort of experience—but live, of course—that awaits audiences at Soulpepper’s production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which offers over six hours of impeccably staged and performed theatre either in two long evenings or over the course of one full day, with multiple intermissions and a meal break.
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is perhaps the most celebrated American play cycle of the last 20 years, having won a Pulitzer, two Tonys for best play, and a raft of other awards. An HBO miniseries followed and won just as many of the television industry’s awards. Kushner wove all sorts of ideas about identity, religion, and politics into his very intimate story of New Yorkers coming together both in the real world and in a world of fantasy and dreams, peopled with angels and historical figures.
Soulpepper’s founding artistic director, Albert Schultz, helms the two-part production (which absolutely must be seen in order) and has assembled a first-rate cast. Fellow founding company members Diego Matamoros (as the intimidating and uncompromising Roy Cohn) and Nancy Palk (who plays several roles, but is most memorable as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg) anchor the cast, but newer talents like Damien Atkins (in the pivotal role of the sharp-tongued “prophet” Prior Walter) and Michelle Montieth (as the depressed dreamer Harper Pitt) are also note-perfect. For a play (and series) routinely described as epic, it mostly unfolds in intimate two- or three-person interactions, and every actor shines at moments.
There’s plenty of epic staging: an angel tears through a ceiling to appear to Prior, for example, and Antarctica forms the backdrop for dream sequences. (It’s an adult show, too, with moments of full nudity and much coarse language, most of it from the hilariously profane Cohn.) But it’s the hospital bed conversations and chance meetings between characters that will stay with you after the show and spark debate at one of the four intermissions.
We saw the play over two successive nights; on the second night, some fellow audience members who were “marathoning” the show in a full day reported they were a bit fatigued by Act Five, but others loved the constant stream of acts. As with your miniseries viewing habits, you’ll be the best judge of how to consume this series. But don’t wait too long. Theatre of this calibre is a rarity, and unlike an HBO series, it won’t be around forever.