In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column, the first of two this week, I review the Broadway revival of Angels in America. Here’s an excerpt.
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Twenty-five years after it opened on Broadway, Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” is back, this time in the U.S. transfer of a British production. In Marianne Elliott’s National Theatre staging, the pivotal role of Roy Cohn is played by—of all people—Nathan Lane, and his presence is its most distinctive element.
If you’ve followed his career at all closely, you’ll know that Mr. Lane is no mere musical-comedy clown. He is, like John Lithgow, a dead-serious actor whose energy is comic, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he gives an idiosyncratic performance as the reptilian Cohn, a monster of aggression who was, at least in public, nothing if not unfunny. Mr. Lane, by contrast, plays him at first as a whiny, kvetching jokester given to sudden flares of red rage…
The fact that Mr. Lane is so unlike the real-life Cohn is one of the most interesting aspects of this revival. “Angels,” after all, is a quarter-century old and portrays events that took place in the ’80s. Back then, Roy Cohn was in every way a man of the moment. Now he belongs to the ages—and so does the AIDS crisis. As a result, “Angels” has become a kind of history play, and thus can be staged with a freedom from its factual grounding that wasn’t possible in 1993, when its terrible subject matter was a living memory to all who saw it. You needn’t cast an actor who looks like Cohn: You can go your own way, searching out contemporary echoes in the script instead of relentlessly evoking the past.
This is what Ms. Elliott has done, though not always to good effect. She has given us a neon-lit, slick-looking “Angels” full of elevators, trap doors and fathomless film-noir shadows, one in which we are surely meant to think “Donald Trump” whenever we hear “Ronald Reagan.” The look of the show, whose set is designed by Ian MacNeil, is reminiscent of her over-elaborate staging of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” in which bells-and-whistles trickery smothered the play instead of heightening its effect….
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for the HD simulcast of the 2017 National Theatre production of Angels in America: