The Great Work Begins – a review of “Angels in America: Part One: Millennium Approaches”

By Michael Buzzelli

It’s not easy to tackle Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches,” but in his directorial debut, Tucker Topel pulls it off with aplomb.

In 1985, a disparate group of men and women face the AIDS crisis each in their own way.  Prior Walker (Sam O’Neill) develops KS lesions on his arm, back and chest. His lover, Louis (Ben Nadler), is so distraught he can’t function.  Infamous lawyer and former Red Scare McCarthyite Roy Cohn (Nick Mitchell) denies he has a ‘gay disease.’ Cohn is too busy trying to convince a young Mormon attorney, Joe Pitt (Hunter Ventura), to go to Washington to become his inside man. “Inside Man” has as many insidious connotations as you could imagine. Pitt’s wife, Harper (Jamie Rafacz) is busy going insane. She says, quite nonchalantly, “I never imagined losing my mind was going to be such hard work.”

Meanwhile, an Angel (Amari Mae Shakir) has a message to deliver.

While the show is decades old, and has been an HBO movie, there are no spoilers here.

Kushner’s script is acerbic, bright, brilliant, terrifying and sad. It’s easy to see why it was Pulitzer Prize-worthy.  The play is almost three hours, but it zips along. Stand up, do squats at the two intermissions or bring a cushion.

The cast of “Angels in America: Part 1, Millennium Approaches”

Elsewhere Theater’s production of “Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches” has some of the finest acting anywhere (not just in Pittsburgh).  The men and women of the shows are phenomenal.

O’Neill shines as Prior. He is marvelous. Every line, every gesture is meticulous.

In the past, Nadler has played a series of walk-on roles. He’s stood in the background of a lot of plays. No more. He exudes a star quality here. He and O’Neill carry a lion’s share of the three act play, and they excel at it.

Cohn is a force of nature, a cankerous wound on Democracy, and Mitchell plays him with zest and verve. The affable actor normally plays bartenders and everyday shlubs, is a powerhouse in the villainous role. His posturing and preening is a controlled rage. It’s an over the top character but the performance is nuanced, filled with subtext. His performance is outstanding.

Kathy Hawk plays Hannah Pitt, Joe’s Mormon mom. Though she’s only in a few scenes, she makes great use of them.  Zachariah Washington also manages to deliver some great lines as Belize, a former-maybe-current drag artist.

Matt Henderson takes on a variety of roles and appears and sounds differently in each. His Trick in the Park is frightening and funny at the same time. At one point he becomes Prior Walker’s great ancestor and it’s a much-needed release of hilarity.

Jesse Chovanec gets dolled up in a great costume and delivers some hilarious lines as well.

The props are sparse and the scenery is spartan, but Topel proves that you only need a good script and good actors to make art, and he has a great script and great actors.

“Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches” is a must-see Pride month production.


“Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches” runs until June 15 at the Carnegie Stage,  25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here.


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