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'Angels in America' at Signature Theatre Company: What did the critics think?

October 29, 2010 | 12:02 pm

Angels One of the most anticipated New York theater events of the season isn't happening on Broadway, but at a small theater off the beaten tourist track. The Signature Theatre Company recently opened Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," a revival production of the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning magnum opus.

The epic drama, which runs nearly seven hours over the course of two evenings, follows the intersecting stories of several New York residents in the 1980s, as the magnitude of the AIDS crisis became clear. The play was produced at San Francisco's Eureka Theatre and Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum; it opened on Broadway in 1993.

Directed by Michael Greif, the revival of "Angels in America" stars Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek"), Christian Borle, Frank Wood, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Billy Porter and more. The Signature's cozy Peter Norton Space has just 160 seats, versus the more than 900 seats at the Walter Kerr Theatre, where the play ran on Broadway.

Audiences have been eating up tickets for the revival, and the Signature has extended the run through Feb. 20. But a play with so much cultural significance brings with it a lot of critical baggage -- an unavoidable burden reflected in the reviews of the Signature's revival.

Charles McNulty of the L.A Times had mixed sentiments about the production, writing that the "ensemble [cast] is only intermittently able to sustain the necessary power," although Quinto gives a "remarkably authentic performance" in the role of Louis.  The critic added that the production "doesn’t have the same millennial urgency of the original Broadway staging or even the retrospective brooding of the [Mike] Nichols miniseries" that aired on HBO in 2003.

The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote that the new production feels like "picking up a paperback version of a best seller you devoured, wide eyed and breathless, in hardcover not so long ago. It’s still a good read, but you don’t feel the same urgency." The critic described the staging as "glowingly acted" and praised Mark Wendland’s "efficient, imaginative sets."

Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post called the revival "uneven," adding that the imbalanced performances from the cast make "the show feel disjointed, and some of the key scenes underwhelm." The critic wrote that "Quinto and Porter fare best, crafting perceptive portraits of complicated men."

The Associated Press' Mark Kennedy found a lot to like in the production, writing that the Signature's staging has "mostly succeeded, with brilliant use of projections and a Rubik's Cube of a set, though the acting is often hit-or-miss and sometimes strangely distancing for such an intimate-massive play. Even so, this diamond of a poetic script is priceless."

Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg wrote that the play holds up "sensationally well," though Greif's direction is "uneven." The reviewer praised Wood's portrayal of Roy Cohn, calling it  "a career-topping performance" that "stakes a strong claim on a part owned by Ron Leibman in the original New York production."

-- David Ng

Photo credit (top): Signature Theatre Co.

Photo credit (bottom): Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images

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