‘Angels in America’ runs through July 1 at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., angelsbroadway.com.
A few weeks ago, it was reported that Donald Trump said that he needed to be protected by someone like Roy Cohn. The infamous, shameless and bullying litigator, who was associated with Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s Red Scare, represented and mentored Trump starting in the early 1970s.
Cohn (who never admitted being gay before dying of complications from AIDS in 1986) is a central character in “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s marathon magnum opus of contemporary American drama, which is now receiving a splashy, sleek and stunning Broadway revival (25 years since its New York premiere) with an outstanding cast led by Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield.
The production (which originated at London’s National Theatre) is directed by Marianne Elliott (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” “War Horse”).
“Angels in America” is comprised of two separate four-hour parts (“Millennium Approaches,” “Perestroika”) that combine realistic drama with trippy hallucinations, ghosts and monologues. The show, which is subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” dramatizes the early days of the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York while also analyzing the public and private institutions that fundamentally affect American life.
“Millennium Approaches,” generally considered the better-written part, contains one of the most striking scenes of all time: a giant winged angel crashes through the bedroom ceiling of Prior Walter, a sensitive and stylish young man suffering from AIDS. “Very Steven Spielberg,” Prior comments. And the angel declares “Greetings Prophet. The Great Work begins. The Messenger has arrived.” End of scene.
In addition to Cohn (Lane) and Prior (Garfield), key characters include Prior’s hyperactive and high-strung ex-boyfriend Louis (James McArdle), the vulnerable Mormon law clerk Joe (Lee Pace), Joe’s desperate, Valium-addicted wife Harper (Denise Gough) and the tough but compassionate African-American nurse Belize (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett).
Amanda Lawrence plays an angel (backed up by a team of “shadows” who operate her immense feathered wings), a homeless woman and a Utah real estate agent, while Susan Brown plays the convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg, an elderly male rabbi, a political operative and a Mormon mother rediscovering her place in the world.
Taking in the play is not easy. In addition to its length, many sequences are bizarre, didactic and choppy. But there is no denying its theatrical brilliance, literary ambition and cultural relevance. It is often just as romantic and hilarious as it is philosophic and intense.
Given the unmistakable parallels between the Reagan era and the Trump era, “Angels in America” certainly feels more urgent today than it did in 2003 (when the starry HBO film adaptation premiered) or 2010 (when it was performed Off-Broadway). The Great Work continues.