Thursday, August 26, 2010

FRINGE: when last we flew

Tony Kushner is lucky to be getting such a touching homage to his masterpiece Angels in America in Harrison David Rivers's when last we flew. Rivers clearly loves the play and isn't trying to rewrite it. The play takes place in Kansas and there are no characters dying from AIDS or closeted Mormons. At a little under 2 hours, it's not the epic that Angels is. It does, however, remind us of the power of literature.

The central characters are two African-American high school students. Paul (Jon-Michael Reese) reads Angels in America obsessively. As he struggles with his sexuality and deals with the feelings of alienation brought on by his father leaving, he finds solace in the play as well as his bathroom--the only room in his house with a lock. Natalie (Rory Lipede--remember that name) is an exceptional student who gets kicked out of her private school when she realizes that she wants to stand up for injustice. Rivers uses imagery and lines from Angels in America to invoke a similar feeling of fantasy. My guess is that a knowledge of the play isn't required to be moved by when last we flew, but I wonder how someone unfamiliar with Angels would take scenes such as Natalie crash landing into Paul's bathroom.

The young actors come across much stronger than the adults, especially Lipede, who is such a magnetic performer that the play seems to lose something whenever she isn't onstage. Reese effectively plays Paul with a nervous edge and Christopher Larkin sweetly plays Paul's best friend Ian.

Rivers has the ability to write humorous as well as poignant dialogue and I'd like to see what he can do when writing a piece not so heavily influenced by someone else.

Remaining performances are Fri 27 at 9:45 and Sun 29 at 2:30 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

If you are interested in other stories about artists who have been inspired by Angels in America, read Signature Theatre's blog.

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