Touch the Angels

It’s 3pm on a hot Saturday afternoon and while the rest of the offices in Phileo Damansara I are closed for the weekend, things are abuzz in Sparky Dawg with the members of theatrethreesixty - a collective of playmakers who are dedicated to tell stories by giving writers and actors safe spaces to experiment and grow to help pave the way for new Malaysian theatre and while the common reaction to working on weekends is usually far from enthusiastic, the members of theatrethreesixty are deep in discussion – preparing for their upcoming staging of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

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. With the help of fantasy, theatrical magic together with a blend of comedy and realism, the play explores the themes of love, death, identity and ethics; weaved together to form a portrait of American life in the 1980s and the end of a millennium.

One of the most revered American plays; Angels in America has received two Tony Awards for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2003, it was adapted into an Award-winning HBO film and has received hundreds of performances worldwide in more than twenty-six languages.

This August, Angels in America will make 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 encountered a life-changing experience with Angels in America while he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Drama and Theatre Arts at Middlesex University, UK.

“This play, just for the sheer scale of it, is a mind-blowing theatrical experience, even more so for someone who was as young and impressionable as a college freshman”, he reminisced. “However, different audiences have differing attention spans, which we need to adapt to. Which is why I’ve decided to only produce the first part of the play, Angels in America: Part One - Millennium Approaches” he said, adding that he hopes to stage part 2 in 2015 if the first instalment receives positive reviews.

“The play is primarily two things: American politics and human relationships. It’s the latter that I find very interesting because the sort of plays that I am inclined to and have directed have very big things to say about the humanistic elements of our lives; unlike The Normal Heart, a play of similar themes and plot that was released not too long before Angels in America, which is more angsty and melodramatic, the seriousness of Angels in America is polished with the gloss of timely and well-executed humor,” he said.

Still, apart from the grandeur of the play itself, the reason this production remains close to Chris’ heart is because although it deals mainly with discovering and accepting one’s sexuality as well as coping with the AIDS epidemic that erupted in the 80s, Angels in America has the aptitude to touch every member of the audience on different levels; even if the conflicts and issues faced by the characters are dissimilar to their own.

“My first encounter with Angels in America over 20 years ago stays in my mind so potently until today because I saw myself on stage. I could relate to the characters and that has now become my primary focus as a director; to ensure that I put forward something that is relevant. Something that will speak to you on a personal note. This is the challenge I’ve put forward to members of my cast; to be able to connect with the audience on a very basic and fundamental level,” he shared.

Angels in America: Part One - Millennium Approaches by theatrethreesixty will be staged at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) Black Box from August 8-17 featuring an illustrious 9-member ensemble cast led by Qahar Aqilah, Jon Chew, Dominic Lucien Luk and Sandra Sodhy featuring Belinda Hon, Alexis Wong, Nicole-Ann Thomas, Tan Meng Kheng and Azzad Mahdzir. Tickets are priced at RM38 and RM28.

This article was published on August 10, 2014 in The Malay Mail.