Saturday, September 28, 2019

ANGELS IN AMERICA PART TWO: PERESTROIKA • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

“If the snake sheds his skin before a new skin is ready, naked he will be in the world, prey to the forces of chaos.” This is a line delivered by the “oldest living Bolshevik” at the start of Perestroika, Part Two of Angels in America. It’s a fitting image for the events that play out in the culmination of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, as the folks we met in Part One continue to cross paths, forming unlikely and often hilarious duos, shoved into chaos by the unavoidable momentum of change.

Prior (Barrett Foa), weakened by sickness in body but not in spirit, is visited by the Angel of America (Gina Daniels) when we left off, and she crashes through the ceiling with a stern, desperate admonition for the earthbound, and speaks about humans with jealous disdain. The Angel and Prior both find themselves discarded, and their interaction yields more comedy than you might expect.
Prior Walter (Barrett Foa) and Hannah Pitt (Meredith Baxter).
Photo credit: Jon Gitchoff
Prior’s ex-lover, Louis (Ben Cherry), starts a fling with his co-worker Joe (Jayson Speters), but opposing political views soon start to rip at the seams of their relationship. Joe’s wife Harper (Valeri Mudek) is comfortably safe within her Valium-induced delusions when she’s not being fussed at or fussed over by Joe’s mother Hannah (Meredith Baxter), who’s left Salt Lake and taken a job at the Mormon Visitors Center in NYC. She becomes an unexpected salve for Prior when he’s most vulnerable, just as Belize (David Ryan Smith), a friend of Louis and Prior’s, winds up being the unlikely nurse charged with tolerating racist insults while trying to soothe Roy Cohn (Peter Frechette), a closeted lawyer who is loudly dying from AIDS, and guarding a hoard of AZT like a dragon on a mountain of gold. He’s getting spectral visits of his own from Ethel Rosenberg (Baxter), who was executed for being a Communist spy in 1953 -- an execution Cohn proudly takes responsibility for having a hand in.

Belize (David Ryan Smith) and Roy M. Cohn (Peter Frechette).
Photo credit: Jon Gitchoff
The performances of the cast members remain strong across the board, and getting to see how these characters complete their journeys after they “shed their skins” is extremely satisfying. Baxter has some wonderful moments as a steely Hannah Pitt, as well as Ethel Rosenberg, who takes pleasure in taunting Cohn about his questionable status as a lawyer while anxiously awaiting his death, and Frechette’s portrayal as Cohn, vicious as a dog in a corner, gets even more impressive as he physically deteriorates. Smith’s Belize continues to eloquently provide a cold, unclouded vision of the world, and Daniels is hard to take your eyes off of, whether she’s wrestling with Prior as the Angel (thanks in part to the great work by ZFX, Inc's flying effects) or schooling Harper as a Mormon pioneer woman from a diorama come to life. Kushner’s beautifully fearless script does right by every one of them, championing leaps of faith as the abandoned gain strength, sharing disparate but idealistically universal connections.

Mormon Mother (Gina Daniels) and Harper Pitt (Valeri Mudek).
Photo credit: Jon Gitchoff
With a top-notch cast and creative design, director Tony Speciale paints Kushner’s grand ideas in grand fashion, making the quiet, human moments just as mesmerizing as the spectacular ones. The Rep’s dazzling production, offering repertory and marathon showings, is as visceral and compelling a production as you’re likely to see, and it’s only around for one more week. Don’t miss it.


Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Tony Speciale
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through October 6 | tickets: $20 - $97.50
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays at 1pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm, selected Saturdays at 4pm, Sunday, September 22 (Part Two) at 1pm
Marathon performances Sept. 15, 18, 21, 28 and 29 and Oct. 5 and 6:
Part One: Millennium Approaches at 1pm
Part Two: Perestroika at 7pm

Louis Ironson (Ben Cherry) and Joseph Pitt (Jayson Speters).
Photo credit: Jon Gitchoff
Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz, Henry, Hannah Pitt, Ethel Rosenberg, Aleskii Antedilluvianovich, Asiatica: Meredith Baxter*
Roy M. Cohn, Prior 2, Antarctica: Peter Frechette*
Joseph Pitt, Prior 1, Europa: Jayson Speters*
Harper Pitt, Martin Heller, Africanii: Valeri Mudek*
Mr. Lies, Belize, Oceania: David Ryan Smith*
Louis Ironson, Australia: Ben Cherry*
Prior Walter, The Man in the Park: Barrett Foa*
The Angel, Emily, Sister Ella Chapter, Homeless Woman, Mormon Mother: Gina Daniels*

Hannah Pitt (Meredith Baxter).
Photo credit: Jon Gitchoff
Scenic Designer: Timothy Mackabee
Costume Designer: Dede Ayite
Lighting Designer: Xavier Pierce
Original Music and Sound Design: Broken Chord
Projection Designer: Alex Basco Koch
Associate Director/Violence, Intimacy and Movement Director: Tommy Rapley
Dramaturg: Gad Guterman
Voice and Dialect Coach: Joanna Battles
Associate Costume designer: Jake Poster
Casting By: Pat McCorkle, CSA, Katja Zarolinski, CSA, McCorkle Casting Ltd.
Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit
Associate Stage Manager: Lorraine LiCavoli
Production Assistant: Makenzie Clark
Flying Effects Provided By: ZFX, Inc

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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