‘Angels of America’ soars in strong, spare production 

When “Angels in America” received its world premiere at the Eureka Theatre Co., AIDS was considered a decade-old epidemic. On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the first reported case of the pandemic disease, Theatre Shark has produced a spare and compelling production of “Millennium Approaches,” the first half of Tony Kushner’s “Gay Fantasia on National Themes.”

Directed by Laura Lundy-Paine, the production at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center is elegant in its simplicity. Performed runway style, with audience on two sides, there are few set pieces and none of the trappings a higher-budget production would offer.

Far from a limitation, the absence of distractions allows Kushner’s language — undated and as compelling as it was two decades ago — to shine in the hands of an almost uniformly excellent cast, all but one of whom perform multiple roles.

As the self-loathing Roy Cohn, Donald Currie is a force of nature. Snarling, cajoling, seducing and threatening, he believably shifts through an intense array of emotions as deftly as someone flipping through CDs.

His primary dancing partner is John Steen, as the sexually questioning Joe Pitt, whose portrait of a closeted man seeking invisibility through the illusion of normalcy is deeply affecting.

As his Valium-popping, hallucination-prone wife Harper, Cary Cronholm is amusing, astute and ultimately tragic as she watches her world crumble and her grasp on reality slip away.

On the other side of the story, Adam Simpson and Dara Yazdani play the gay couple for whom AIDS is a divisive reality. Simpson’s approach to Prior Walter is a bit shrill and his dialogue occasionally feels read rather than felt. Still, his moments of anguish ring true and you cannot help but feel compassion for him.

Yazdani has no such dialogue problems, which is an accomplishment given the rambling, self-serving near-monologues his Louis must deliver to justify his cowardly desertion of his lover.

Annie Larson is a delight in all of her roles, but she particularly shines as the flint-eyed, pragmatic Hanna Pitt and the droll, observant Ethel Rosenberg.

As Belize, Anthony Rollins- Mullens offered the right kind of sass, but in a stuttered performance that should improve later in the run. Liz Ryan totally steals one of her scenes — as Sister Ella, the Mormon Realtor — but fails to connect with her other assignments, including the Angel.

THEATER REVIEW

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

Presented by Theatre Shark

Where: LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closes May 14
Tickets: $20
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.angelsinamericasf.com

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Bio:
Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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