kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
[personal profile] kate_nepveu
I saw this Thursday night (and am now in a car dealership waiting room). I pre-read the current text of the play as preparation: this is apparently the second revision, which means that at least one change I remembered from the HBO version may not be its fault--I don't have the intermediate text to compare. (If you read the oral history at Slate, it approaches a literal miracle that this part of the play was ever finished, so I'm not surprised that Kushner keeps tinkering with it.)

Notes first about staging and smaller bits in roughly chronological order, then bigger-picture comments.

I know the World's Oldest Bolshevik monologue is very thematic, but I still think it ought to be cut.

The original text has the monologue, and then we return to the end of Part One, with the Angel declaring herself--and adding Prior's furious, frightened response: "Go away." This was omitted from the HBO version, and may have been sourced in the intermediate revised text--it's also not in the most recent text that this performance was working from. Honestly, I miss it; I think there's an argument to be made for the continuity from Part One, but probably the technical difficulties of bringing the Angel out for just that bit are a convincing reason not to.

Instead we open with Louis bringing Joe back to his apartment. The staging is now wide open; Louis's apartment, for example, is not on a turntable with some walls but a door on the left side of the stage and a rug. (The stage is also notably deep.) Location shifts are done by dark-clothed people or just out in the open; there's one scene where Harper is getting dressed in her apartment yet interacting with Joe in Louis's apartment, with Louis asleep in the shared bed, and she literally drags them and their bed out onto the stage.

The Angel's visitation to Prior has been remixed, again I think in the intermediate version, to have Belize be an active part of the scene instead of standing on the side while Prior tells him about it. This works well for me. (I'd forgotten how incredibly uncomfortable the Angel noncon sexual experiences are. Ugh.)

The puppets in the Mormon Visitor Center are very well-done, very creepy.

After the second intermission:

You could tell it was live because there was a little prop error. There's a scene where Joe visits Roy in his hotel room, and Roy pulls out his IV in response to Joe's telling him about Louis. There was a little spot of red on Joe's shirt before his confession, and I couldn't figure out where it had come from, and then Roy pulled out the IV and they both ended up bloody, and I realized: the "blood" pack under Joe's shirt leaked a smidge. I'm sure they'd rather that didn't happen, of course, but it was kind of weirdly reassuring as a piped-to-movie-theaters viewer?

Joe is written in the text as occasionally becoming abruptly, frighteningly angry (here at Hannah when he's looking for Harper and she's trying to connect), but either this portrayal can't sell it or it's not a good characterization choice.

Roy's death scene follows Joe punching Louis and Louis flopping on his back and saying that he's just going to lie there and bleed. Louis stays on the floor throughout, Roy's hospital room rises from the floor at the front of the stage, and Prior's hospital bed quietly become visible at the far back of the stage. I'm . . . honestly not sure about this choice, it's just background scenery and doesn't do much for me.

After the second intermission:

Prior wrestles the Angel and huh, look, there's flying after all (I'm pretty sure -- it didn't look like they were being lifted by the Angel Shadows).

The Angel is generally very good; the Shadows do great work with the wings and her movement, and I liked her voice. The only thing that bugged me a bit was her cough, which was more like spitting up or gagging; it's textually meant to convey incredible unwellness, which it sure did, but I'm used to imagining it as the dry sharp bark that the textual notes describe. (I have no idea what the other two performances I saw did with it.)

The scene in Heaven works particularly well on stage, partly because I never remember to write down all the Angel mappings, and partly because the Angel does a very good job with the big speech. I remember thinking "wow, I don't remember this language being so beautiful, it's almost . . . Shakespearean?" and then I wondered if the actor's accent was slipping and my American weakness for a British accent was manifesting. Whatever, I liked it. (Prior's rejection has also been fleshed out from the original version, which is again an improvement.)

Prior's return to Earth was staged pretty cleverly: the ladder went into the near-front part of the stage that rose up from underneath, so he descended as it rose and ended up climbing down . . . to the same level.

Big picture comments:

I suspect strongly (not having the 1996 intermediate text, but having seen the HBO version that post-dates it) that the addition to this version is the change to the Roy-Joe post-death scene, in which Joe agonizingly admits that he was wrong, he is part of the world and not above it, and that he has repeatedly lied. I viewed this, as I would given my previous very strong feelings about the way Perestroika treats Joe, as giving Joe the potential for change. Yes, he still asks Harper to come back at the end of the play, but I see that as a misguided attempt to make amends. However, in talking with other people who've seen this version, that viewpoint is not universal, and so I freely admit that my own preferences may be coloring my view of the intent of the scene.

Speaking of problematic white dudes in the play . . . I HATE LOUIS SO MUCH. All through his hideously racist monologuing at Belize, I was mentally chanting at Belize to go, break free of the text and walk out, don't sit through all! this! (More on Belize in a moment.) And I'd forgotten that he fucking blames Prior for his own leaving, saying that Prior was "too much of a victim." Why are they still friends with him?! Where is his on-stage moment of understanding of what an asshole he's been? Nowhere. GAH.

Finally: there is a very fine line between Belize, the only black (also, non-white) character in the play being the play's moral center, and being a Magical Negro. And on rewatching, I'm not convinced that lampshading the fact that Belize is trapped in a world of white people, or that he has a life that doesn't revolve around Prior and that the characters don't care about, that he has to bring up himself, is sufficient. So I don't know if it was this particular portrayal that wasn't working of me, or just generalized discomfort with the role overall.

The text I have is copyright 2013, and if you haven't seen or read the play since then, I think the changes are worth checking out. What did you all think?
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