The Great Work Begins: This Is Why Angels In America Is a Must See Now



Stirring, sentimental, and stunning, Angels In America Manila proves why this cornerstone piece of literature is necessary in the conversation of humanity today.

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The light is essential to many things: necessitating life in general, photosynthesis, draping over the somber season to warm it up for summer, and in the tone of humanity, illuminating the key tenets such loneliness, justice, and most importantly, truth. Whether wrought by an adversary or pure circumstance, shedding light on the intangibles help us understand what is at the precipice a lifelong challenge to understand.

In the recent staging of Angels of America: Millenium Approaches in Manila, the flicker of light frames the pace of the seminal classic that tackles AIDS and homosexuality, as well the complex entanglements of relationships in an especially temperametal New York in the 80s. From the very first banter between Roy Cohn, the fiery, fast-talking lawyer who unapologetically dangles the currency of power over many a wide-eyed practitioner of the law, much like Joe Pitt, where a fancy candelabra casts a moody glow to the scene, clearly illustrating how the gleam can break when subjected to a hard edge, to the steady, innocence-laced switching of the lights by Harper Pitt, Joe’s wife in their home as she entertains a creation of her pill-popping imagination, the role of the light establishes itself as a subtle, but necessary conduit to the continuing narrative.

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Stepping into a more prominent breadth, the light eschews itself to the conversation of Prior and Louis , who are deep in discussion of meandering and mortality, and like a pulling of the rug, Prior relents and reveals a truth: that he has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The unsettling matter of fact wraps around the two and so begins a threshing of paradigm and privilege, as well as an eventual seeping of tension.

So begins an examining of the threshold of revelation, a prevalent push and pull that threads itself into the rich tapestry that is Angels in America.

THE ENSEMBLE

As brilliant as the material is, the Manila production of Atlantis Theatrical under the helm of Bobby Garcia is anchored by a tour de force ensemble that breathes life to the text with equal amounts of joy, pain, and at times, a palpable helplessness that makes you want to step in and help out.

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Setting the tone for the play that runs for approximately three hours divided into three acts is premier actress, Cherie Gil, who with multiple roles to portray, opens the first act with an unrecognizable turn as a rabbi. Throaty and wry, her portrayal acts as a compass for the entire narrative, which with her sterling skill washes over the play.

Balanced, well-paced, and technically proficient, Angels in America Manila was a visceral feast, with its post-modern set of stacked found objects to help signify the ambiguity and eventual weaving of surreal elements. With a sturdy foundation in place, the actors turn in soaring performances that sear itself to your soul. No, really, it does.

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The explosive rah-rah-rahs of Art Acuña’s Roy Cohn is tempered by Markki Stroem’s valiant and grounded interpretation of the morally challenged Joe Pitt. It is impossible to not pay attention, especially with Acuña, as he manages to lend a distinct humanity to an otherwise vile character. Stroem is a pleasant surprise, as he allows his aww-shucks, heartthrob demeanor to be completely taken over by the conflict that leaves his spirit gaunt.

The women of Angels In America bring a necessary heart and gut-wrenching tenderness to the play, as effortlessly essayed by Cherie Gil and Pinky Amador in multiple roles, but in particular, as the hard-pressed matron Hannah Pitt and the commanding nurse/Angel respectively. Angeli Bayani also delivers a tugging turn as the troubled and well-meaning Harper Pitt that ultimately leaves you aching for her sentiments.

But it is the performances of Nel Gomez as Louis and Topper Fabregas as Prior that elevates the show to a skyrocketing emotional trip of stratsopheric proportions. Already talked about as star-turning and skill-cementing portrayals, it is their combined ability to deliver a reality that is so tactile and timely that nestles in the hard-to-reach crevices of your very being.

Seesawing between how he wants to feel and how he assumes he should think, Nel Gomez makes time stop as Louis, especially during the pivotal conversation with Belize (whose subtext was given new context by the hilarious Andoy Ranay, even without so much as a word in). With the burden of kilometric-long lines in what could very much be a character soliloquy, he hits a confident stride in a turning point where his Louis wrestles with every thought that races and careens in the scope of his book-ended understanding of how religion, politics, and love works.

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At the core of Angels In America Manila is Prior Walters, who by all accounts carries the burden of the play’s overarching conflict. At the hands of a less capable actor, the characterization could easily tip towards a flat and cloying portrayal of histrionics, but Topper Fabregas takes Prior Walters and makes him completely human from the pages of the revered canon. Passionate, poignant, and powerful, Topper Fabregas is in a league completely his own as humor, vulnerability, and truth come together in a graceful culmination. With perfectly placed explosions of emotion, he contrasts his Prior with thoughtful quiet moments of introspection that completely latches on to you. Every word, every stroke of wry comedy, and every bark of frustration is both robust and buoyant, that while the whole smoke and mirrors caveat of the theater is well in effect, the turn of Topper Fabregas as Prior decidedly lingers well after the cliffhanger is dropped at the very end of the show.

GREAT WORK BEGINS

In a conversation with a friend, wherein I was trying to convince her to see the theatrical exposition, she had asked me if the context of the show (a conservative, fear mongered Reagan era at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s) was something that the audiences understood. It didn’t prove to be a concrete hump we had to get through to grasp. In fact, it was a rather illuminating piece of literature that sheds more light into the apparent decay of society and humanity today. Sounds like a deja Vu of adversity don’t you think? Well, it seems Angels In America already saw into a little over three decades ago.

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Angels In America is not only bold and brave, but it is tenacious in spirit. It is, as it narrates, doing great work, not just sparking a conversation, but encouraging that it continues well after the scrim curtains close. In its compelling tone, justice, opposition, and politics are rendered simplistic in its nature when set against what is often simplified is actually complex concept of love. Louis and Belize have a drawn out, well-referenced discussion on his apparent ambivalence to Prior and his struggle, which he of course denies. But as we have learned and re-learned over the course of life, love reveals itself as difficult, yes, but a decision to stick to when push comes to shove. This becomes the play’s greatest work being set for action, as the Angel riles and rouses Prior to speak up and live, just live. That’s it, that’s the message; now that you’ve had the opportunity to interface with Angels In America, so begins your own work to manifest with the world today.

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This is no Spielberg attempt at a desk ex machina device, because as a very fitting punctuation, the Angel bellows: The messenger has arrived.

Angels In America Manila did not only arrive, but it sure is going to stay with us, for as long as we will it to, rustling feathers, flapping wings, and a crack of light all considered.

The final five shows of Angels In America Manila are on April 5 (8:00 PM), April 6 (2:00 PM and 8:00 PM) and April 7 (2:00 PM and 8:00 PM) at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza. For more information visit Ticketworld.