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Salem Theater Company – Angels In America

Strong Cast And Solid Direction Equal Great Local Theater

By J. Smithfield Oppenheimer III

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There are many ways that we can count ourselves in Salem among the fortunate.  One of those ways is the presence of the Salem Theater Company.  In their eight years of existence they have entertained over 40,000 people with their dramatic productions.

Last week we attended their production of Angels In America at the theater’s new venue at 35 Congress Street, which is the main building at Shetland Industrial Park.

The new location is a marked improvement over the previous Lafayette Street location.  The old spot served them very well, and the company certainly squeezed from it every ounce of potential.  They now sit on the third floor of a recently renovated, and historically significant industrial building a short walk from the downtown. The space is located in the front of the building and is steps away from both the staircase and the elevator.The space is larger, and much more functional for theater use than the old venue.  There is room for a small foyer backed by a curtain to separate the space from the actual theater.  A larger stage and tiered seating create a better experience for the theater goers.  For this production there was also some seating on the side, which could be used as room to expand the stage area for future productions.

ANGELS IN AMERICA – Directed by Catherine M. Bertrand

Tony Kushner wrote this play in 1993. It won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize For Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Salem Theater Company presents their production of this complicated story of confused and frightened people in three acts. It’s examination of the beginnings of the AIDS crisis centers on three couples in New York City who are confronted by, and must deal with the issue, each in their own time and each in their own way.  The play combines the use of real life characters, like Roy Cohn, fict20160610_212321ional characters created by Kushner, supernatural characters, and a few characters conceived by the minds of some of the major characters.

The three couple are Louis and Prior, a gay couple dealing with an AIDS diagnosis for Prior; Joe and Harper, a Mormon husband and wife trying to deal with his being a closeted, married Republican Gay man, and Harper’s addiction to valium which causes her vivid and detailed hallucinations; The third couple is Roy Cohn, a bigoted and powerful lawyer, and Joe, who is the first of the characters to cross over into another characters arc.

They are all people. who on one level or another do not understand who they are, and Angels In America is about their dealing with the fear and rage that result from that confusion.

SALEM THEATER COMPANY CAST AND PERFORMANCE

First Act –  Things started a little slowly but is carried carried by the performances of Isaiah Plovnick as Louis and Brit Christopher as Harper.  Plovnick with his strong voice projects his feelings well and displays a slight awkwardness that fits the character.  Christopher as Harper very effectively fills the theater with her presence and conveys a pained confusion as soon as she appears on stage.

20160610_230016As the first act progresses each of the appearing characters begins to warm to their roles and provided this observer with an anticipation of what the second act would bring.

Second Act –  This act begins strongly and progresses from there.  Plovnick and Christopher remain strong in their performances.  Christopher becomes even stronger and continues to impress with her ability to display strength, weakness, and confusion all in the same smattering of dialogue.

Alex Deroo as Prior, who has been diagnosed with AIDS truly establishes his character.  He begins to convey vast, fearful, and confused emotions.  This begins a roller-coaster ride for both Prior and the audience that is well supported by Plovnick’s Louis.  The Roy Cohn character, portrayed by Dave Rich also begins to emerge.  He is a user of others on a huge and impersonal scale and Rich begins in this act to show Cohn’s disregard for his fellow humans.

The entire act builds into a powerful ending that creates in the audience fear, pity, anger, and perhaps even hate for the character of Cohn.  As the lights dim, hope seems to fade with them.  There is silence in the theater as the lights come back for intermission.

Third Act –  The ending chapter of this play belongs to entire cast.  Adrian Peguro as Belize, the caregiver for Prior is sassy, sympathetic, and strong.  Hannah Wagner, in her multiple roles is able to blend well from one to the other. The work of Ted Sliva in three roles is seamless   Cam Torres  does his best work here as Joe begins to understand who he is.

It is Alex Deroo who stands out.  His confusion, anger, and fearful pleading13325549_10154185940176445_1427343809339535985_n speak clearly to the audience.  Alex’s performance grabs you and draws you into his agony and fear.

The performance of the cast is exemplary and speaks well of the abilities of of Director Catherine M. Bertrand.

We strongly suggest that you find the time to attend this Salem Theater Company production of this still relevant play.

Angels In America runs until 24 JUNE

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