Sunday, March 31, 2019

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (Atlantis Theatrical)


1985. Prior Walter (Topper Fabregas) reveals to his lover that he has AIDS. Still reeling from guilt issues brought about by his grandmother’s recent passing, Louis Ironson (Nelsito Gomez) is devastated as he does not know how to handle another impending loss. He forms an unlikely bond with Joe Pitt (Markki Stroem), a married Mormon confused about his sexuality. Joe’s wife, Harper Pitt (Angeli Bayani), is agoraphobic and deals with her issues by indulging in Valium. Joe’s boss, big shot lawyer Roy Cohn (Art Acuña), is persistent in convincing him to move to Washington DC to pursue the opportunity of a lifetime. In denial that he is a homosexual, Roy argues with his doctor that he does not have AIDS because he is not gay, as far as the traditional connotations of the term are concerned. Sharing a delusional state of mind because of their meds, Harper and Prior try to deal with their difficulties in life just in time for the arrival of an Angel (Pinky Amador) announcing that millennium approaches.

This play has always been intriguing. It was revived on Broadway last year with Andrew Garfield in the Prior Walter role, but the dates just didn’t coincide with my annual Broadway Barrage tradition. There was also an HBO mini-series that adapted the play to television. Other than that, I really had no idea what the narrative was about except for the involvement of angels. Now that I’ve seen it, I am glad that I did because the issue at hand remains so timely despite the story being set more than three decades ago.

How do you present the AIDS epidemic onstage without the attempt being dismissed as a hodgepodge of medical mumbo-jumbo and without incurring the wrath of homophobes everywhere? Rent did it through edgy song and dance numbers. Angels in America relies on delusions of grandeur and comedy in the face of a serious life-threatening dilemma. It also has this ephemeral quality, a series of fleeting but interwoven visions that display a coherent experience that carriers of the virus could collectively relate to.

The main difference between 1985 and 2019 is that HIV is no longer the death sentence that it used to be. Adherence to accessible antiretroviral drugs translates to a normal healthy life for HIV+ individuals nowadays. Back then, it wasn’t really the case, and this theater piece is a good reminder of how times have changed as far as breakthroughs in treatment have helped in curbing the threat of AIDS. On the other hand, you also see how much of the stigma has persisted even decades later, until now.

The material is challenging because you need a reliable group of theater actors to portray multiple roles convincingly. In this regard, Atlantis couldn’t have come up with a more deserving roster. Cherie Gil, for example, plays four distinct roles with different genders. Perhaps the downside of this is that the actors involved are already well-known to the public, making their portrayal of various characters require a little bit more suspension of disbelief from the audience. In any case, it seems like an exhausting acting project.

As the title of the play suggests, this is just 1/2 of a two-part feature. Whether Atlantis will stage Part 2 in the years to come is still a big question mark. While the material is said to be standalone, the ending does leave you hanging and there is no closure at all. After three hours of emotionally investing in the characters, there is a feeling of being shortchanged somehow. Yes, the total run-time of the play is a little over three hours. It starts off a bit boring, but it eventually picks up as laughter and tears come and go.

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