An ex-drag queen with AIDS who is visited by an angel, a repressed Salt Lake Mormon whose Valium-addicted wife thinks she is traveling to Antarctica, a closeted gay attorney insisting that he has cancer and not a disease he believes is reserved for junkies and homosexuals—Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part One which is now running at the Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View, is an epic play involving scores of characters, many intersecting storylines and some grand themes. So how does a drama of such proportions fare in a theater as tiny as the Pear?
Very well, as it turns out. The most striking thing about this theater is indeed its intimacy: essentially one small room, it has only four rows of seats, so even in the back row you are just a few feet away from what is happening onstage. The small space has the effect of amplifying the drama, without ever rendering it awkward or constrained. It also gives the production an immersive quality; for example, during the opening funeral scene in which actors sit in a row listening to the rabbi speak, it feels as if the audience is part of the group attending the service.
The entire cast delivers great performances, which are all the more commendable because of the play’s great length and the fact that, as Kushner intended, most of the actors play multiple roles. The standout here is Tom Ammon’s funny yet frightening portrayal of Roy Cohn, a deeply evil character based on the real-life Joseph McCarthy crony who was instrumental in the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Like the real Cohn, this one hides his homosexuality and the fact that he has AIDS.
This same cast, as well as the same simple set design used in this production, will also be used for Pear Avenue’s staging of Our Town, which runs in repertory with Angels. These two plays are an interesting pairing, since both deal with the challenges of everyday life and its eventual end. Their contrasting perspectives are also fascinating: one looks back on the small-town life of a supposedly simpler time, while the other (Part One of Angels in America is subtitled Millennium Approaches) looks forward to a new era with a mixture of hope and trepidation. The millennium may have already arrived, but Angels is as relevant as ever, and the Pear Avenue Theatre is a great place to see it.
Angels in America will run through Oct. 16 at the Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Ave., Unit K, Mountain View.
More information at 650.254.1148 and http://www.thepear.org.