Since the revival run of Angels in America by Tony Kushner at the Signature is nearly sold out, even with an additional extension, I will, rather than review it per se (it has enough positives you can view elsewhere) answer the question everyone asks me about it. Is it worth trying to get in, and worth the double ticket price (it’s a two part play of epic length, performed in six acts over two evenings or one marathon day)?
If you’ve never seen the play—at all—the answer is most likely yes. Angels is at its best when there are charismatic star turns in certain key roles, especially that of the middle-aged Mormon mother Hannah Pitt (who multiples as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, a rabbi and a doctor) and the corrupt, closeted politician Roy Cohn. The Signature production, directed by Michael Grief, doesn’t have those precisely, but has excellent performances from some of New York’s best, always-working players (in the roles described, for example, Robin Bartlett and Frank Wood). In that regard, this Angels is about as good as ensemble-level revivals get, with Mr. Grief’s direction being effectively uncluttered and direct.
If you saw its Broadway debut or national tour—it depends on how much you want to renew your acquaintance with it in a live venue. If your memories of it are fresh enough, my feeling is this new staging won’t illuminate anything uniquely (notwithstanding what the passage of time can do to place a contemporary play more firmly in a historical context), nice as it can be to see different performers do their thing. Among the reasons Mr. Grief’s staging is so direct is that he’s savvy enough to know that the play is likewise direct. If you’re doing it right, you set up the pieces and then stay out of its way, rather than try to layer on interpretation.
If you’ve seen, or can see, the HBO miniseries directed by Mike Nichols, starring Meryl Streep and Al Pacino (among others), readily and inexpensively available on DVD…it may not be live, but the piece, utilizing so much magic realism and in some places outright surrealism, makes a graceful and haunting transition to the screen—a fairly accurate one too; most of the multiple casting scheme is maintained, and its theatrical nature is absorbed and embraced rather than paraphrased and rendered reportorial cinema—and it’s every bit as heady an experience as the play performed live at its best. Not exactly the same, of course; but where it matters, as the Brits say, as near as makes no odds.