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‘Angels in America’ impresses with bold commitment

By Theresa Gaffney

Section: Arts, Featured

October 23, 2014

On Thursday night, Oct. 23, Brandeis Players presented the opening night of “Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.” Directed by Sarah Waldron ’17, “Angels in America” was made of a surprisingly young ensemble cast: All of the actors were sophomores or first-years.

The main cast was made up of two couples— one gay and one straight. Sarah Duffet ’17 plays Harper, a woman who from the very beginning faces psychological and emotional trauma as she experiences various hallucinations and abuses Valium. From the opening scenes, Duffet is so convincingly disheveled that one almost worries it is real. With her sweater buttons hooked in the wrong spots, she wrings her hands and shifts her feet, as though there really are voices lurking in her head.

Opposite her is Joe Tinianow ’17, playing somebody uncomfortable in a different way. Embodying a character not at home in his own skin, Joe stands stiff and awkward against his frazzled wife.

Louis and Prior—Reno Kersey ’17 and Sumner Alperin ’18, respectively—are a gay couple hit by tragedy when they learn that Prior has contracted AIDS. Alperin perfectly diminishes throughout the play, starting off as a smooth, confident and comedic partner. Throughout the play, however, he becomes shaky and sporadic. Flitting between comedic jabs and emotional turmoil, Alperin performs a spectrum of different sentiments.

“Angels in America” leaves much of the work to be done through the play’s dialogue, but cast members succeed in continuing to tell the story even when the spotlight is on another scene. With a simple design, the stage presents up to three scenes at a time, testing the strength of various relationships. But even as the spotlight fades off of Louis and Prior, the actors continue to embrace, creating a tension and a comparison between the play’s two couples.

While this play is the acting debut for some of the cast, inexperience is undetectable on the SCC theater stage. Cast members held nothing back throughout the play as the audience watched the characters and their relationships deteriorate.

Toward the end of the first act, the play comes to a climactic scene as Louis sits at a bar with his friend Roy (Dylan Hoffman ’18) talking about his problems with Harper, while Harper lays on the bar table, invisible to her husband and his companion. On the other side of the stage, Prior begins to engage sexually with a homeless man (also played by Alperin). The two continue hugging and necking, despite the fact that the spotlight is on the conversation happening over Duffet, who moans in sync with their moves.
Both Alperin and Kersey show extreme dedication to their roles throughout the play. At one point, Kersey and Alperin begin to have sex, and Kersey actually pulls down the back of his pajama pants and the boxers underneath. While the audience doesn’t catch a glimpse of anything, Alperin certainly does as he pulled Kersey toward him unhesitatingly.

While Duffet, Tinianow, Alperin and Kersey are the main players, the rest of the cast provides a wonderful array of supporting characters. Lily Shrayfer ’18 becomes a rabbi, an assistant, a mother and a nurse. In almost every role, Shrayfer manages to pull laughter out of the audience.

As the characters plummet toward the end of the story, Brandeis Players still are able to surprise the audience. During the second act, Alperin stands woeful by his bed, surrounded by hallucinations, when all of a sudden, a magazine falls from the rafters above the stage directly into Alperin’s hands. It is a small moment, but it is well-timed and well-rehearsed touches like this that help to make the show even more of a complete experience of emotions.

Brandeis Players’ performance of “Angels in America” is definitely worth the ticket price. Audience members will enter into a familiar world, yet should still expect to be surprised, saddened and terrified. “Angels in America” will play in the SCC theater Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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