Friday, 15 August 2014

'Angels in America': Living on the edge of a broken soul

Prior and Harper meet each other in a realm between dreams and hallucination.

Prior and Harper meet each other in a realm between dreams and hallucination.

Angels In America, baring a bold sense of irony and moral insight, is a theatre experience to savour.

There's a fine line between the dream world and hallucinations. Both realms offer us momentary escape, between murderers on the loose and angels filling the skies. The nightmare begins when characters from that other side start to cross over. That's when dreams, nightmares, visions and reality all become a blur.

Is there really someone with a knife in the next room, or is it just the meds? Was that really a voice heard from above or just a dream? Treading this tightrope over a deadly plunge is US playwright Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels In America

This two-part epic has been staged worldwide for over two decades. In 2003, HBO adapted Angels In America into a star-studded, Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning miniseries. Now, Malaysian director Christopher Ling has brought it the local theatre stage with an impressive cast of our own. Angels In America: Millennium Approaches, which tells the first part of the saga, is playing at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, until Sunday Aug 17. 

After watching Millennium Approaches, we can hope that Angels In America: Perestroika, part two of the play, will get a staging as well.

Dominic Lucien Luk plays AIDS stricken Prior Walter who hears voices from heaven.

Presented by theatrethreesixty, the plot takes audiences back to 1985 America, where fearmongering and widespread misinformation have made HIV and AIDS the most misunderstood and politicised epidemic in medicine and the world. In tackling issues like homosexuality, depression, death and redemption, Millennium Approaches reflects the confusion, guilt and emotional trauma of the time.

The play revolves around gay couple Prior Walter (Dominic Lucien Luk) and Louis Ironson (Jon Chew), husband and wife Joe Pitt (Tan Meng Kheng) and Harper (Belinda Hon), and the unscrupulous Republican lawyer Roy Cohn (Abdul Qahar Aqilah). The weight of the story hangs on the very human relationships between these characters. A dying partner, a troubled marriage, voices from heaven... Angels In America pulls them all together. 

Kushner’s genius is in making his characters feel real, and Ling’s masterful staging bridges the gap between believing and the suspension of disbelief, by not relying too much on theatrics and instead allowing the words to conjure the magic. 

Prior and Louis’ relationship is falling apart as Walter battles AIDS. Meanwhile, Harper resorts to delirium to deal with her failing marriage. As the story unfolds, the characters cross paths, often in unlikely circumstances, and startling revelations are made. In one scene, Harper stumbles into Prior’s dream, a man she's never met before.

“What are you doing in my dream?” Prior asks.

“What are you doing in my hallucination?” Harper retorts.

The hilarious scene sees Luk and Hon as Prior and Harper share a magical moment together. Their chemistry and whimsicality are infectious. But the absurdity takes a dramatic turn when Prior hears a heavenly voice, heralding “Her” imminent arrival. No more spoilers!

The main cast has been nicely kept to established players in Malaysian theatre. Qahar as Cohn is a force to be reckoned with. The character requires gravitas and an air of nonchalance, and Qahar brings that and more in his portrayal of the lawyer, which Kushner based on the real Roy Cohn. Qahar, who sounds more politician than legal eagle, gives a potent performance.

Hon is another actor to look out for. She lends the seemingly deranged, pill-popping Harper a sense of innocence and rawness. There's something about Hon that makes you fall for her the moment she steps on stage.

Angels In America: Millennium Approaches may be the best play staged so far this year. This Malaysian staging is simple, intense, powerful, and not watching it will be a definite loss.

> theatrethreesixty presents Angels In America at DPAC, Black Box H-01, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, until Sunday Aug 17. Nightly shows are at 8:30pm, final performance is Sunday's matinee at 3pm. Tickets are at RM38, matinee and concession seats are at RM28. Discounts available for group bookings. Call 03-4065 0001 or go to for enquiries, or e-mail

Tags / Keywords: Entertainment , On Stage , Angels in America , Millennium Approaches , Christopher Ling , theatrethreesixty , AIDS , theatre , Tony Kushner , DPAC


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