Review: “Angels in America” (Part 1: Millennium Approaches & Part 2: Perestroika) at Round House Theatre

Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland teamed up with the Olney Theatre Center to direct “Angels in America”  (Part 1: Millennium Approaches & Part 2: Perestroika). Unlike so many who were familiar with the 2003 HBO Mini-series based on this 1993 two-part play by Tony Kushner, I had not heard of this show. It is not a stretch to conclude that including these shows in the 2016 season for both theaters was an intentional decision due to Donald Trump running for President this year. I held off on publishing my review prior to the election as its results would influence what I had to say.

Outside of Round House Theatre with a poster advertising "Angels in America" (Part 1: New Millennium & Part 2: Perestroika).
Outside of Round House Theatre with a poster advertising “Angels in America” (Part 1: New Millennium & Part 2: Perestroika).

A friend of mine and I binge-watched both parts of this play in one day. Each show had two intermissions due to each part lasting over three hours, but we opted to watch the marathon the same day instead of spreading it out. We were prepared for the adult themes and mature language; however, we somehow missed the warning about nudity in the show until we saw the notice posted when our tickets were being scanned. There is nothing wrong with the aforementioned; however, I typically attend the theater to escape, and I appreciate content advisories to be prepared.

There are many intricacies to the plot of “Angels in America,” as all of the characters are connected. A simple summation is that this two-part play is about politics, religion, sexual orientation, and class set during the 1980’s AIDS epidemic.

I understand why microphones were not used for all of the actors. There were many wardrobe changes and three actors completely disrobed on stage when their characters were at their most vulnerable. Due to the lack of amplification and actors not always maintaining their projection, there were instances where audience members had to ask their neighbors what was said on stage. It should be noted that those asking were older in age, so this cannot completely be blamed on the actors.

"Angels in America" poster. Pictured is Dawn Ursula, who played the Angel.
“Angels in America” poster. Pictured is Dawn Ursula, who played the Angel.

The ensemble cast was excellent. Some of the cast members played more than one role. Jon Hudson Odom was fabulous in separating Mr. Lies and Belize (one of my favorite characters). The ladies even played the roles of gentlemen flawlessly. Kimberly Gilbert’s transformation from Harper (my other favorite character) to a male businessman made me do a double-take. Sarah Marshall did a fantastic job individualizing all of her roles, both male and female.

The challenge I had with Dawn Ursula as the Angel was her choice to deepen her voice made her hard to understand. While attempting to decipher what she was saying, it was challenging for the audience to simultaneously comprehend what her character was conveying. During the intermission there were a few conversations in the audience reviewing what the Angel said so we all would be clear.

Round House Theatre is a beautiful venue in Bethesda, Maryland.
Round House Theatre is a beautiful venue in Bethesda, Maryland.

While this play is an important piece of art, it can be surmised that it was also intentionally chosen because of political undertones. Roy Cohn, one of the characters in the play, was a controversial attorney in real life. Roy mentored Donald Trump when he was younger. The audience saw that Roy lacked character, was a polarizing figure, and most likely the hope was that the same conclusion would be made about Donald to prevent him from becoming President… I look forward to next year’s continued partnership between Round House Theatre and the Olney Theatre Center.

Disclaimer: I purchased my own ticket to see this show, and the opinions expressed are 100% my own.

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