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Carnegie Mellon Drama's Angels in America

A strong production of Tony Kushner's epochal play is sapped by cuts in the script.

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Winning the Pulitzer, Tony and any other award a play can win, Tony Kushner's Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes was nothing short of an earthquake when it debuted in 1993: a huge rumbling of ideas and an intense examination of what it means to be an American. As he proved with his screenplay for Lincoln, Kushner has no equal when it comes to making huge political ideas personal and making the personal the rock-solid foundation of the political.

Angels is no exception. We meet Prior Walter, a gay man recently diagnosed with HIV; his soon-to-flee boyfriend, Louis Ironson; closeted Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt; and Pitt's Valium-addicted wife, Harper. Thrown into this mix is Roy Cohn, based on the real-life Republican mongrel; ex-ex drag queen Belize; Joe's mother; and an angel from heaven charging Prior with a great mission.

The monumental journeys all these characters take results in what is unquestionably the most important play written in the past 60 years.

Carnegie Mellon Drama attacks the script with full force under the muscular direction of Jed Allen Harris who, along with his teams of designers, provides a swift, steel-plated production. A skilled student company navigates through Kushner's complexities, with Emily Koch turning in a hauntingly melancholy performance as Harper.

But there's a problem.

Angels in America is written as two parts: "Millennium Approaches" and "Perestroika." I've never heard one person try to make the case that either part is a complete whole. But CMU is producing only "Millennium," with no plans for "Perestroika." (Since when is doing half a play the same as doing the whole one?)

I knew that going into it. What I hadn't counted on is how much they'd cut out of "Millennium" — scenes, characters, monologues, lines. By my reckoning, at least 40 minutes has been trashed, leaving unsupported action, vague character motivation and skeletal paraphrasing.

(There was an attempt to ameliorate this incompleteness: At the curtain call, we were told the cast would be performing the three-and-a-half-hour "Perestroika" in the lobby ... in a 15-minute version.)

I can't believe anyone involved doesn't realize they've turned the sumptuous full-course feast of Angels in America into Chicken McNuggets.

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