25 March 2019

Beauty sans terror: Notes on 'Angels in America – Part 1'

Angels in America is big. The two-part play comprises eight acts, gathering a host of personal and political themes enlaced with phantasmagoria. Part One: Millennium Approaches has recently seen its Manila premiere and among all the things I find fascinating about it, what surprises me most is how the show feels rather small.

Granted, the first installment is taut by design, and director Bobby Garcia has translated Tony Kushner's narrative as clearly as possible. Too clinical in my opinion that the magic has taken a backseat.

Unfamiliar references in the script aren't necessarily stumbling blocks to my viewing experience, thanks to the actors who provide a strong sense of what they want from their audience and fellow actors. You don't need to understand the punchline, so to speak; they'll tell you when it's time to laugh.

And it is through the cast in vulnerable, angered moments that we're engulfed in grandeur — whether it's Art Acuña (Roy Cohn) performing verbal gymnastics as he rejects a "homosexual disease"; or Angeli Agbayani (Harper Amaty Pitt) drawing a confession from her husband and fabricating a secret of her own to even the playing field; or Nelsito Gomez (Louis Ironson) begging his partner to simply not die.

In Act 3 the comedy is deliberately raised, somewhat curtailing the dread brought on by the characters' circumstances and which culminates with the entrance of the Angel. We gaze at a divine creature floating; but we're more in awe of her dress than terrified by her presence.

That said, Atlantis Productions cracks a profoundly engaging story wide open. It's a shame if they wouldn't stage Part 2: Perestroika in the near future and let audiences in this run of Millennium Approaches receive the full reward of their patience.


Performance details: Angels in America by Tony Kushner. Atlantis Productions; director: Bobby Garcia. (Carlos P Romulo Auditorium, 22 March 2019)

Read notes on the book here.

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