Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Angels In America: A better tomorrow

Everyday characters in an ever-changing world navigate their hopes, fears and dreams in Angels In America.

DISEASE has ravaged his body and he suffers terribly from the physical assault and emotional toil it has taken on him. To add insult to injury, his partner then walks out on him, leaving him to cope with the harsh reality alone.

Or almost alone.

You see, Prior Walter has strange visions and visitations. And he isn’t the only one having them.

This is New York, mid-1980s. And occasionally elsewhere.

American playwright Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels In America in 1993 cleverly weaves a complex tale of politics, sexuality, social stigma and spirituality in a time when the AIDS epidemic is on the rise – a strange new illness that is quickly politicised, and the infected, shunned.

In this fantasy-tinged play, one man struggles with his faith, and another with his sexuality – and a woman with his (she also struggles with popping too many pills).

Or are they really struggling with both? Find out more when Angels In America, produced by theatrethreesixty, starts its run at Damansara Performing Arts Centre, Petaling Jaya, in Selangor this weekend.

The play, which was also turned into a TV miniseries and opera, is divided in two separately presentable parts entitled Millennium Approaches and Perestroika.

Dominic Luk, who plays Prior in Angels In America, says that his character goes through a lot in his life, but continues to love all those around him. When his partner leaves him and loneliness set in, he hits an all-time low. Millennium Approaches will be the Angels In America story told here.

“He is left in isolation, but it isn’t only physical pain that he has to suffer from. He also goes through a lot of emotional hurt,” Luk says of Prior, who spends much of the play confined to the hospital bed because of his illness.

Luk observes that although this takes away some physical freedom on stage, it also gives him the challenge of playing a sick person convincingly.

“Prior chooses his words carefully, and he is manipulative. He does all this with good intentions, which makes it more interesting to play this character.”

Yet, beneath all this, he is passionate about life and love.

“In so many weird ways, I connect with Prior because of these things,” he says, adding that Prior is someone he wants the audience to fall in love with.

A character analysis refers to this character as having “nothing but rotten stuff” happen to him, and Luk agrees.

However, he adds that almost every other character in the play suffers from some kind of emotional and physical hurt.

“And everyone has a moment of transformation in one form or another,” he points out.

The lives and fates of these characters in Angels Of America are intricately linked with each other, crossing on the most unlikely of paths, often with harrowing implications.

But within the broad themes of love and lust, life and loss and death lies at heart a bold exploration of a crumbling society, the devastation of denial and prejudice, and the fight for survival.

“The play looks at the fight-or-flight instinct within all of us. It is a whirlwind emotional roller-coaster of a ride whilst being grounded in the sobering realities of life,” says Christopher Ling, director of of Angels In America here, who describes the play as a time-capsule of America in the mid-1980s.

“A quirky smorgasbord of characters struggle together to love, live and die as the AIDS crisis begins to take hold in their community,” he adds.

Ling recalls his first brush with this work when he saw the original London production in 1994 at the Royal National Theatre.

“The vivid memory of sitting riveted to my seat for close to three hours has haunted me ever since. It is a beautifully written piece of theatre.”

Jon Chew (Louis Ironson) and Tan Meng Kheng (Joe Pitt).

Ling was so taken by the play that he got his hands on the script, read it and over the years, found any excuse to use Angels In America as a resource for monologue and scene studies.

“The play is both intimate in its storytelling and, at the same time, epic in the themes that it addresses.

“That experience at the theatre (in London) truly influenced my style as a director, both in terms of the material I choose to work on, the ensemble nature of the performance, as well as staging,” he says.

The set is composite in nature, the script left intact, and all onstage and offstage is made visible to the audience.

“In his staging notes for the play, the playwright Tony Kushner writes that ‘it is ok if the wires show’. Strangely enough, sometimes you have to get less real in order to get more real. theatrethreesixty’s production takes this philosophy to heart in our staging,” relates Ling.

He notes that the American politics in the playinitially posed a huge challenge to him. But in having to understand the context of the piece, he rediscovered the power of the play in challenging its audience.

“The human relationships explored within the piece are a marvel to watch as they unfold and then unravel bit by bit as the plot thickens.

“The characters of Prior, Louis, Joe, Harper and Roy Cohn all stand out in my mind as beautiful testaments to their humanity and, consequently, their fallibility,” says Ling, commenting that the joint imaginings of the characters make this piece fantastical and magical, and a thrill to stage.

Qahar Aqilah plays Roy Cohn.

The rest of the cast in Angels In America: Qahar Aqilah as conservative lawyer Roy Cohn, Jon Chew as vocal leftist Louis Ironson, Tan Meng Kheng as conflicted Mormon Joe Pitt, Belinda Hon as Valium-addicted Harper Pitt, Azzad Mahdzir as Belize, Sandra Sodhy as Hannah Pitt, Alexis Wong as The Angel, and Nicole-Ann Thomas as Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz.

As originally written, most of the actors will take on multiple characters, including a brief appearance by a spear-wielding, hip-gyrating Eskimo.

Angels In America: Millenium Approaches runs for three hours, including a 15-minute intermission. There are tentative plans to include part two – Angels In America: Perestroika in a staging next year.

Angels in America by theatrethreesixty will be staged at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPac) Black Box (H-01, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor) from Aug 8 to 9 and Aug 12 to 16 at 8.30pm. Shows on Aug 10 and 17 will be at 3pm. Tickets are priced at RM38. Mid-week evening performances (Tuesday & Wednesday), Sunday afternoon matinees and concession tickets are priced at RM28. For group bookings, purchase five full-price tickets and get one free. To purchase tickets, call 03-4065 0001 or visit www.dpac.com.my. For any enquiries, e-mail info@theatrethreesixty.com.

Tags / Keywords: angels of america , theatrethreesixty , christopher ling , dominic luk


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