Angels In America: Millennium Approaches is an epic tour de force set in 1985s United States of America. Playwright Tony Kushner tackles the AIDS crisis, Reaganism, love, heartbreak, self-discovery, and a multitude of other themes via witty dialogue, magical realism, and complex and profoundly genuine characters. The show opens this Thursday, March 8, and runs until Monday, March 13 in Schaeffer Theatre.
Timothy Dugan, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre, is directing Bates’ production of the show. The Angels cast consists of thirteen student actors, including me. We are joined by Kirk Read, Professor of French and Francophone Studies, who plays Roy Cohn, a character based on the infamous attorney of the same name. Angels In America in full is two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. This month’s production at Bates only includes the former.
As an ensemble member, I’ve been rehearsing for Angels for the past two and a half months. I recently chatted with director Dugan, who has been with the show much longer.
When deciding whether or not to embark on the journey that is putting on this enormous show, Tim jokingly recalls asking friends, “Hey… am I crazy? Architecturally, there’s so many layers to this play… the canvas is enormous.”
In navigating the enormous canvas of the show, Tim worked to equip actors with “as many tools as possible to crack open the scene[s]” during the rehearsal process. Once actors understood “the complex and potentially emotional issues,” brought up by Angels, the cast was able to convey them onstage for an audience. Dugan prepares actors by ensuring daily warm ups and rehearsals are tailored to guide the cast into the particular scenes that they’ll be tackling each day. For scenes that require political context, Dugan has brought in Bates professors to discuss relevant historical information with the cast. For fast-paced, sporadic, and argumentative scenes, Dugan has us play a large and complex round of catch, keeping us alert and on our toes.
Many of the cast members encountered Angels In America: Millennium Approaches, and some of the issues it grapples with, for the first time upon auditioning. “To some students… what it would be like in the 80’s dealing with AIDS is, of course, not a part of their reality.” For this reason, Dugan has tried to portray the timeless and relevant nature of the show in Bates’ production. “This is ’85, but its 2018.” Beyond the eternal and universal themes of pain, progress, change, love, and heartbreak, Angels includes countless political parallels, connecting the show’s reality to our current political climate.
Upon returning to Bates after February break, just two weeks away from our opening night, Dugan asked the cast to describe what we felt the play was about by writing a few sentences. The responses show that the modern poignancy of Angels certainly has not been lost on its cast members. We’ve been able to marvel in its immensity and authenticity throughout the entire rehearsal process. For the ensemble, this show has evoked a wide range of emotions and reactions both onstage and off.
Michael Driscal ’19 explains that Angels is “about the inevitably of change… the fright and freedom that comes with it.”
Patrick Reilly ’21 mentioned “the resiliency of the human condition.”
Ezra Clarke ’21 noted “how ordinary people endure extraordinary struggles.”
Commenting on Kushner’s unique and unparalleled assessment of the country as it was in 1985, Charlotte Karlsen ’20 described Angels as “a love letter to America in the fullest sense: an honest assessment of what it has been and a prayer for what it still could be.”
Dugan is both delighted and excited to bring Angels to the Bates community. “There’s a huge pay-off” in experiencing and attending the show as an audience member “with whoever is there that night… that’s the magic of it.” Even after seeing the show many times over, Dugan still “marvels” in the play’s ability to portray a story “wildly epic, hugely political, and so heartbreakingly personal.”
Through my personal involvement as member of the ensemble, this process has revealed that Angels is a dramatic, comedic and mystical interpretation of the fact that life must go on. Its authenticity and shamelessness offers a portrayal of the human experience that is unparalleled by any other show I’ve been involved in.
As John Dello Russo ’18 put it, Angels proves that “even in the darkest times, we can cling onto hope.”