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Despite sexuality, sickness and drugs being topics at the forefront of the narrative in “Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches,” the magnificent and magical Arena Stage production, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the play’s Broadway premiere, highlights major themes of love and interconnectedness.
In this fantastical show, fully equipped with chandeliers and water showers, hovering over and falling on (respectively) a sand-filled, moving stage, audiences are treated to a fun-filled experience that offers a healthy dose of truth. Through discussing tough topics and asking hard questions, “Angels in America” which runs at Arena until April 23, provides a reminder of how much still needs to be addressed in order for the U.S. to form a healthier and “more perfect” union.
“This production we have created a fantasia,” said actor Justin Weaks, who plays Belize and Mr. Lies in the Arena Stage show, in a Washington Informer WIN-TV interview. “It is a world of magic. It is a world of ritual. It is a world of fantastical-ness. It’s theatrical. We’re not shying away from how theatrical it is. And I think leaning into that helps us stay safe in a lot of those uncomfortable moments we have to tackle in the play– we’re able to heighten them.”
The show doesn’t shy away from discomfort. Some characters are dying of AIDS, another is battling a drug addiction, others are grappling with sexuality, and there’s sex and nudity. With all the tough topics and salacious scenes, director János Szász tackles “Angels in America” in such a beautiful way.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this much love from a director. I’m not talking about praise, I’m talking about love,” said Weaks. “That was just the culture of our rehearsal space and it’s been the culture of our backstage and our onstage space, is that we are really holding on to each other. And it’s a play about so many fractured relationships, but we are really a tight ensemble.”
The outstanding ensemble artfully deals with difficult discussions and realities, allowing audiences to face truths and stigmas.
“The thing about stigma is that it will kill you. The thing about stigma and the reason why stigma exists is that we hold things in the dark, we hold things behind closed doors, because for whatever reason, we’re not willing or ready to face whatever truth,” Weaks explained. “If we want a better future for ourselves, for our children, for the people who come after us, then we have to start having these sticky conversations and the theatre is the best way and, I think, the most ancient way, we know, as people, how to get to the bottom of that. It’s storytelling, it’s stories, and if we expose ourselves to different kinds of stories, then I feel like there’s no way to avoid the healing that we so need.”
In a post-current-pandemic society, as each audience member donned masks sitting around Arena’s Fichlander four-sided stage, “Angels in America,” allows theater-goers to consider universal questions.
“At this time as Americans right now, we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions about what we owe to our country. ‘How do we move forward out of an era of sickness? What does it mean to move forward? How do we center love in all of it?’ This play is able to hold all of the joy, and the fear and the questions that we are currently having as American people.”
Even with the heavy weights that come topic by topic through the play, Arena’s “Angels in America,” not only offers lessons but is also truly entertaining.
“This play gives you an experience,” Weaks said. “I promise you’ve never seen a production of this play like this before. It’s an exciting night at the theater.”
For tickets and more information, go to www.arenastage.org.