Back in the mid '90s, I was lucky enough to see the original Broadway production of Angels in America. Both parts! Which meant two flights. That's how excited I was to see this play, which I had already read, and which was being praised as nothing less than the future of theatre.
Over 20 years later, it's still pretty good. Even though the AIDS landscape keeps changing, Angels is not the least bit dated. This is in part because it avoids the nitty gritty of pestilence and the resulting activism, choosing instead to be "a gay fantasia on national themes." It's full of angels, and famous people, and actors playing multiple parts, and gay sex, and ferocious yelling and screaming scenes. Even though it is almost eight hours long, it is never ever boring.
The most recent production comes from the National Theatre, London. It stars Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey and Nathan Lane, and was screened as a film by Cineplex Events. To be clear, this is a real-time transmission of an actual performance with an audience, shot on multiple cameras. It's just like watching a movie, except its on a stage. It's a brilliant idea that brings theatre experiences to people in other cities.
That original production I saw in 1993 featured a legendary performance by Ron Leibman as Roy Cohn, lying in a hospital bed dying of AIDS and haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. Leibman's performance was so angry that it actually frightened people. Cohn, one of the most corrupt and vengeful lawyers in American history, was deeply closeted, insisting until death that he had cancer. He is the very picture of self-loathing. In the National Theatre production, Nathan Lane gives it all he's got, and his scenes are intense.
The other character with AIDS, the one played by Andrew Garfield, starts receiving visits from an angel. These scenes are remarkable. Five actors dressed in black are required to animate the angel and her wings, allowing her to swoop throughout the room. Angels was made into a very successful HBO mini-series in 2003, complete with big special effects. But there is something really wonderful in watching stage effects like the flying angel, an effect that can never full erase its means, but nevertheless invites our admiration because those are real people doing real things up there.
Cineplex Events is a great way to take in an evening of theatre. Previously I had seen the George Takai musical Allegience, which I really enjoyed. Coming up this spring is a production of Sondheim's Follies. This whole theatre-as-a-movie thing could really catch on.