I submit as Exhibit A for the strength of Cincinnati theater the current production at Know Theatre, Part I of Angels in America, Millennium Approaches. This powerful script deserves and demands strong acting, and some of the city’s best performers have risen to the challenge, guest directed by Cincinnati Shakespeare’s Brian Isaac Phillips. The production’s simple scenic and lighting designs by Andrew Hungerford give the play greater wallop.
Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play from the 1990s has never had a professional production locally until now. That’s a sad fact, but it’s almost worth the wait given the polish and punch of Phillips’ staging.
At Cincy Shakes, he always gives the text of classic scripts the necessary burnish. For Millennium at Know, he brings the same astute attention to a text loaded with meaning. Kushner’s words are both profound and mundane — not to mention wryly amusing and often profane.
Set in 1985-86 at the height of the Reagan administration, the story of seven characters is told by eight actors (each plays other small roles, another demonstration of the talent onstage). Most of the men are gay, although not all admit to it; two are afflicted with AIDS, just being recognized as a contemporary plague; one is Mormon, married and driving his unstable wife crazy. Their lives intertwine in conversations that have broad, philosophical implications but are always rooted in Kushner’s cleverly written, deeply personal dialogue.
Each actor in Millennium is worthy of note, but especially memorable are Joshua Murphy (as Louis, the sensitive Prior’s guilt-ridden, motor-mouthed partner), Chris Guthrie (as conflicted, closeted Joe) and Michael Bath (as the vicious conservative power monger Roy Cohn).
Above all is Rob Jansen as Prior, who feels the imminent pulse of a fearful dramatic change. He quails and thrills at the “threshold of revelation.” You will, too. (Jansen is pictured above left with Murphy.)
ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART I: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, has been extended through May 15 and is now running in repertory with Part II: Perestroika. Both works are presented in an afternoon/evening configuration on May 1, 8 and 15. Read Rick Pender's review of Part II here.
Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.