Wires Show but Angels Soar

In an age of wireless internet and torrent downloads, movie directors often run the risk or dragging on story lines and plots for too long, causing viewers to abandon their seats midway or switch the channel; who would ever dare dream of a 3-hour play, unless you’re on Broadway?

Last week, the 180-minute long Angels in America made its debut on the Malaysian stage under the tutelage of Christopher Ling, former Director-in-Residence at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac), who saw himself on stage when he first watched Angels in America (featuring James Bond’s Daniel Craig) while he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Drama and Theatre Arts at Middlesex University, UK.

Angels in America is a two-part epic comedy that tells the story of a group of separate, but inextricably connected individuals whose relationships are disintegrating as the AIDS crisis progresses through the nation.

TheatreThreeSixty did not have the funds for a grand scale production of this 23-year old play, relying instead on theatrical devices and a less-is-more approach as endorsed by playwright Kushner himself in the stage notes of the play, “The moments of magic [...] are to be fully realized, as bits of wonderful theatrical illusion — which means it's OK if the wires show, and maybe it's good that they do..." said Kushner a Brecht enthusiast, who practiced a style of theatrical production where audiences are reminded that they were in a theatre with "no blackouts" allowing audiences to participate in the construction of a malleable theatrical world.

More than that, fancy costumes and intricate props were not necessary, thanks to the wealth of talent pooled together by an illustrious 9-member ensemble led by Qahar Aqilah who stole the show in his role of Roy Cohn, a powerful conservative lawyer - executed with thorough conviction, fortified with the drawl and unscrupulousness of your typically old-fashioned barrister (imagine William Shatner as Denny Crane in Boston Legal).

Fortunately enough for the villain, and the rest too, Kushner’s well-rounded and painfully human characters make it difficult for anyone to have unequivocally negative or positive judgments about any of the characters; whether it’s the pill-popping escapist Harper Pitt (Belinda Hon), her emotionally confused husband, Joe (Tan Meng Khen), AIDS-stricken Prior Walter (Dominic Luk) or the selfish Louis Ironson (Jon Chew).

Ling’s adaptation of Angels in America captured all the horrors of a world where love can't be counted on, where life is nasty & abysmally short and no amount of clout can help you fight death when it finally beckons at your door; all polished with the gloss of timely and well-executed humour and at pivotal moments, dared the audience to sympathize with the notion that freedom must permit unconventionality and even, to a point, endorse it. With only one downside: It just simply wasn’t long enough.

It can only come as good news from a messenger that works for a second season featuring both Parts 1 & 2 are already in the pipeline.

Angels in America: Part One - Millennium Approaches by TheatreThreeSixty currently being staged at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) Black Box, ends its run tomorrow. Tickets are priced at RM38 and RM28.

This article was published on August 11, 2014 in The Malay Mail.