Boyd K. Packer reminded homosexuals where they fall in God's plan and the gays responded with indignation and more than one cheap shot. All this while gay teens are killing themselves at an alarming rate and everyone from Tim Gunn to a Texas City Councilman try to convince them that it gets better.
Against this backdrop, Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) offers its new production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. And it's a reminder how much things have changed in the last 15 years, and how much they've stayed the same. Certainly AIDS is no longer the absolute death sentence it once was. And I don't think any of us ever imagined 15 years ago that gay marriage would be legal in six states. Yet the disdain, even disgust that many feel for homosexuals is alive and well.
SLAC can sure do a lot with not a lot of theater. Without the capabilities of many of Salt Lake City's larger theaters, SLAC has to be more ingenious in staging plays. Keven Myhre's set is a brilliant, travel-induced dream of lost luggage that helps fuel the story's crazed, globe-spanning hallucinations. Myhre also directs this production with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragicomedy.
But the real reasons the show works are good actors delivering Kushner's brilliant dialogue. Alexis Baigue crackles as Louis Ironson, the neurotic gay Jew who can't deal with a dying lover. Charles Lynn Frost makes you hate Roy Cohn, and at the same time somehow understand this complex character. Alexander Bala is perfectly conflicted as the struggling, married Mormon trying to balance his sexuality with the rest of his life. And I loved Colleen Baum as the mother, who convincingly communicates the difficulties of unconditional love.
In the end, this is a play that remembers, as Kushner's characters remind us, that "Love is hard." It's hard if you're straight. It's hard if you're a mother who learns her son is gay. It's hard if you discover that your husband is gay. And it's really hard if you're a man who falls in love with another man. But Angels in America makes me want to stand on the side of love, no matter how hard it is. And if we all do that, maybe the world will be a different place 15 years from now, when SLAC hopefully revisits this powerful play.
Angels in America runs through November 7, 2010.