Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika
Cygnet Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Debra Wanger and Alex Bodine
Photo by Daren Scott
I had a question going into Cygnet Theatre's production of Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika: after having seen Part One: Millennium Approaches a few weeks ago, would this performance get me invested again in Tony Kushner's writing? For some theatregoers, this is not an issue—there are several opportunities to see both parts of the play in repertory during the same day. For everyone else though, the good news is that this chapter builds strongly off the previous one, which makes the combined set of events a big creative success for Artistic Director Sean Murray. There's no need to refresh on the events of the first part because the dramatic situations follow naturally and are instantly entertaining. However, be warned, this review contains spoilers for part one.

Perestroika takes off pretty much where Millennium Approaches ends. Prior Walter (Alex Bodine), a gay New Yorker with AIDS, confides to his close friend, ex-drag queen and nurse Belize (Kevane La'Marr Coleman), that he believes he is a prophet and was visited by an angel (Debra Wanger, aided by dancers Isaac Kalimo and Hans Krueger). Prior is still resentful toward his ex-boyfriend Louis Ironson (Wil Bethmann) and doesn't realize that Louis is having an affair with a Mormon Republican clerk named Joe Pitt (Connor Sullivan). Elsewhere, Joe's valium-addicted wife Harper (Rachael VanWormer) imagines herself on a trip to Antarctica, while the controversial lawyer Roy Cohn (James Newcomb) is slowly dying from AIDS—at the same hospital where Prior stays during his sickest days. Fantastical elements continue to grow as Prior's claim to be a prophet turns out to be legitimate, the ghost of the Jewish Communist spy Ethel Rosenberg (Rosina Reynolds) haunts Roy, and, finally, Prior and Harper speak face to face after having met in a bizarre hallucination. Each character is forced to deal with serious and personal issues.

Kushner's writing features plenty of funny dialogue and poignant moments, even as the material goes into darker territory, where it's sometimes difficult to watch some of the more vulnerable men and women in both physical and emotional pain. A fascinating aspect about the tale is the manner in which certain people either grow as individuals or regress and become weaker. The journeys of the central characters follow on naturally from part one, and the conclusions are satisfying given the general theme of the story.

With so much action going on in the three and a half hour narrative, Murray is able to keep audiences glued to every sequence in this production in the Old Town Theatre. Whether he's staging a dramatic speech or a surreal supernatural conversation between Prior and the angel, Murray's interpretation is always effective and captivating. Bonnie Durben's props on Andrew Hull's set, with Blake McCarty's projections, provide strong visuals and add context to the story. Sound designer Steven Leffue's use of music is appropriately moodier this time around, and Shirley Pierson's costumes continue to stand out, particularly in a humorous (and somewhat creepy) scene set in a Mormon information center.

As in part one, there is consistently strong work from the ensemble cast, and they bring plenty of personality, wit and pathos to their roles (almost everyone plays more than one character in part two). Each can cause you to laugh at one moment and leave you shocked at the next.

As a follow-up to Millennium Approaches Murray goes above and beyond to make sure part two doesn't disappoint. He shows both the ugliness and beauty of humanity and does justice to Kushner's work.

Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, through April 20, 2019, at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $25.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 619-337-1525.