Angels in America: A powerful play approaches

Providing a firsthand look at the gay community and the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes has become one of the most renowned plays of the 20th century.

The play is composed of two parts that are separately presentable. It received the Pulitzer Prize Award and a Tony for each part for Best Play in 1993 and 1994. In 2003, it would go on to become an HBO miniseries winning both Emmys and Golden Globes. Finally making its way to Gustavus, the Theatre and Dance department will be holding performances of Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, in Anderson Theatre.

Directed by Amy Seham, Professor in Theatre & Dance and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies, the play will feature four Gustavus seniors and four sophomores who will be portraying multiple roles throughout the play. The play follows six New Yorkers set in 1985 whose lives intersect. Exploring the Reagan era politics, the AIDS epidemic, and the rapidly changing social climate, the show will feature a series of trials and defining moments for everyone involved.

For Sophomore Assistant Director Sadie LaPlante, it has been an exciting yet busy past few months. As one of the few sophomores to be an Assistant Director, she helps put on rehearsal sets and acts as Seham’s right hand. Her first contact with the play was during Seham’s FTS class, American Drama. The class looked at the play and LaPlante immediately fell in love with it.

“It was so vastly different from anything else, it had characters I could relate to and others that I couldn’t.  The themes are so complex and dynamic that they allow great exploration,” LaPlante said.

“From the stage management to Amy, everyone had done such a fantastic job. I feel really good that this is my honors project.”—Annie Galloway

LaPlante talked about how the production crew has designed artistically abstract and conceptual parts for the set. The wall and floor are painted in the interpretation of the AIDS quilt, representing that each person isn’t just a number but a person affected by the disease, which influenced the casting process.

“I am so happy with the cast. When we went into the casting process, we went in knowing what we wanted for each role. There were a few surprises when it came to the casting, but it is an amazingly dedicated cast that is able to take on such challenging roles. They will shine and thrive as these characters,” LaPlante said.

One challenging role is played by Sophomore Andy Lupinek. His character is Joe Pitt, a married, closeted gay Mormon. Lupinek was also introduced to the play though Sehma’s FTS class. For Lupinek, the play opened his eyes to a genre he had never encountered. Taken aback by how the play really feels like it takes place in the real world, it’s a role like no other for him.

“This is my first lead role since high school. It has been really fun and challenging. I’ve learned a lot from the process with days where I felt as if I was on top of the world and others where I didn’t feel right for the role. Overall, the role for me has been a great developmental phase. Joe has many struggles that can be related to by many, including myself. Playing Joe has changed my life for not only have I learned how to be a better actor but Joe is really all about letting everything go and learning how to go forward with who you really are in life. That is something very valuable that I and hopefully others will take away,” Lupinek said.

Before the play was even announced, two Seniors were already determined to be cast. As Theatre Honors Majors, Annie Galloway and Katelyn Juni have Angels in America as their Honors project. The parts they take up often are the more challenging and bigger parts of the play.

Galloway has the pleasure of playing Harper Pitt, Joe’s wife. The play starts with Harper realizing her husband is gay. There after she must learn how to gain control and find herself again. Galloway embraced the challenge of portraying such a volatile character.

“ It had characters I could relate to and others that I couldn’t. The themes are so complex and dynamic that they allow great exploration.”—Sadie LaPlante

“Harper is a dream role. She is extremely difficult to play and has a lot of mental issues but Harper is the character I have related to the most out of anything I have done. Playing anyone with an addiction (valium) is very complicated to portray correctly, so it’s something that I have been very delicate in representing. How she is able to be really hurt by those around her but still remain is essential to her character as she eventually becomes hopeful. All of these qualities can be relatable,” Galloway said.

This is Galloway’s first show with Seham and she has absolutely loved it. She has found that working with Seham provided the actors aid in determining how they wanted their character to move in a scene. Galloway also is incredibly proud of the work the cast and crew have done.

“From the stage management to Amy, everyone had done such a fantastic job. I feel really good that this is my honors project. It also feels immensely awesome that the world premiere of the show was directed by a Gustie, David Esbjornson. Intellectually and as an actor I feel I have grown a lot. It’s really nice to do a contemporary and modern masterpiece. I’m able to tell my other theater friends that I get to play such a wonderful role and they are in the same awe as I am. The theatre department as a whole looks like it will be in great hands after I leave Gustavus,” Galloway said.

With the excitement held by the cast and crew, Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches is looking to be one of the most thought-provoking plays to be performed at Gustavus.

Tickets can be ordered at the CAO Desk and on Students, faculty, and staff are able to receive one free ticket and for others, adults tickets will be $9.

-Dan Vruno