Tony Kushner’s legendary, 7.5 hour epic drama “Angles in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” which opened at the Neil Simon on Sunday, consists of two parts: “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika.” When the play premiered in 1993 these were both relevant concepts: a new millennium and the Soviet Union. But at it’s core, it is a chilling work about the AIDS crisis, national gay identity, and Reagan-era homophobia.
Somehow, in 2018, all of these things seem shockingly distant, belonging more to the pages of history book than the evening news. After all, the Soviets have come and gone, the new millennium has been around for a while, and in the age of PReP, the AIDS crisis feels distant to a the current generation of gays growing up in the world. Most of these young queer people don’t know who Roy Cohn or Mikhail Gorbachev are, after all.
But, thank god, almost everyone has heard of “Angels in America,” and once the young people arrive, the production will fill in the gaps and provide them with their much-needed education in gay history. That being said, it will not be a quick lesson: 9 acts, 5 intermission, 2 parts, 7.5 hours does not fly by (nor should it).
This London-transfer revival, directed by Marianne Elliott, is as grand as ever, proving that the “gay fantasia” subtitle is not just some eloquent add-on by the playwright. The play sweeps through the stories of Roy Cohn, ruthless McCarthy lawyer who was famously closeted; Mormon couple Joe and Harper, the former questioning his sexuality the later addicted to Valium; and Walter Prior, a former drag queen with relationship issues. Very quickly lesions pop up, characters start getting AIDS diagnoses, and things get more complicated.
In a play so complicated, it takes a skilled director to balance all the characters (or should I say actors) and their many subplots. Sadly, it seems that perhaps Elliott was not up for the job. Nathan Lane as Roy seems oddly flamboyant and comedic, trying to fill all his stage time by screaming or trying to get the audience to laugh. Lee Pace as Joe aimlessly tries to figure out his sexuality, but gets…