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John Kinzer
IU Department of Theatre and Drama

Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Department of Theatre and Drama opens spring season with Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Angels in America'

WHAT: Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner, directed by Jane Page
WHEN: Opens Friday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. Additional performances on Feb. 5 and Feb. 8 through Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee performance on Saturday, Feb. 12, at 2 p.m.
WHERE: All performances take place at the Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave. No photography or recording of any kind is permitted during performances. This production contains mature content including nudity.
TICKETS: Regular admission is $22 for adults, $15 for students, $16 for senior citizens; Student Rush prices available for $10 cash and a valid student ID on the day of each performance.

Jan. 19, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama continues the second half of its 2010-11 season of award-winning plays on Feb. 4 with Tony Kushner's epic Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches.

Angels in America

Winner of both the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play, this sweeping drama explores contemporary American culture, politics and character during the years of the Ronald Reagan presidency.

Directed by special guest artist and IU alumna Jane Page (M.F.A. in directing, 1980), Angels in America plays for eight performances at the Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center.

Angels is set in the mid-80s in New York City, where issues of faith, politics and sexuality come to a head for a diverse group of well-drawn, engaging characters, among them: Harper Pitt, an agoraphobic housewife; her husband Joe, a closeted attorney (and associate of the notorious power-broker Roy M. Cohn); Louis Ironson and his partner, Prior Walter, who has been diagnosed with AIDS; Belize, a former drag queen who is now a registered nurse; and a host of rabbis, ghosts and doctors, including alleged Communist spy Ethel Rosenberg. Through these characters, Kushner weaves an intricate web of greed, deceit and homophobia that director Page said characterized the era.

"To know this story, this play, is part of our cultural literacy. It's like understanding slavery as it relates to civil rights," Page said. "People have a responsibility to understand this perspective on that slice of history -- when HIV/AIDS became an epidemic."

Page sees herself as a guide for both her students and her audience, drawing parallels between the distant eras represented in the play and today. "The issue of AIDS and the issues of homophobia are still huge engines in our culture," she said. In spite of this, she said, there is a distinct contrast between the perception of AIDS in the early 1990s and in a post-AZT (a drug used to delay development of AIDS) and post-9/11 world.

Because of the current availability of drugs that prolong lives and minimize symptoms and side effects, Page said, the general public is no longer as educated about the long-term destruction of AIDS -- and people who are too young to remember the early onset of the AIDS epidemic may not understand its historical and current significance. People should be re-taught the history of HIV/AIDS so that the significance of the continuing pandemic becomes clear, said Page, who believes the play represents a turning point in the way people viewed AIDS and society. "The exciting thing is that we're standing on those shoulders," she said.

The inherent humanity of this play is what makes this play stand out, Page said. Even when examining public figures and political issues, it addresses them from an intimate angle that underscores individuality. In the play, Louis says that "there are no angels in America," but Page believes Louis is wrong. "It is a play about the unrecorded lives; that's important," she said.

Jane Page

Jane Page

Seeing the internal processes and struggles of AIDS victims gives Angels a unique place in the canon of literature about the disease. "It's a totally different take on the genre. I would encourage anyone who saw Rent to come and see this play to appreciate the difference," she said. "Besides, it's interesting and funny and smart."

Named Outstanding Theatre Educator of the Year by the Alliance for Colorado Theater in 2007, Page has taken time off from a successful career in Denver to direct Angels in America at IU.

"It's great to be back," she said." I feel privileged, and I think it will be interesting for students to meet a professional who has been working in their field."

Meeting someone who has walked in your shoes, she acknowledges, can help to allay the fears and uncertainties that accompany the pursuit of training in the creative arts.

"You know that terror of when you finish a degree and ask yourself, 'What am I supposed to do now?'" Her advice to students: think about where you would like to be when you're finished, and go for it. "Not having a plan, I think, is the most traumatizing thing about finishing a program."

The production serves as a thesis project for two of the Department of Theatre and Drama's third-year M.F.A. acting candidates.

Playing Prior Walter, a recently diagnosed and swiftly deteriorating AIDS patient and former drag queen, Henry A. McDaniel III (Hay Fever, Take Me Out) has undergone intense training to achieve both the manner and emaciation of his character.

"I've been working with some really great coaches -- Lawrence Evans and the guys at (Uncle Elizabeth's Nightclub)," McDaniel said of his preparation for the role. McDaniel said that his physical transformation has been a revelation. "It has been startling at times, seeing myself, but it has been informative and illuminating to the text."

Fellow graduate student Sarah Fischer (Rabbit Hole, Major Barbara) also has experienced the demands of a character very different from herself, playing Harper Pitt, an agoraphobic Mormon housewife with a slight Valium addiction. "She has all these crazy characteristics -- we know she hallucinates through the course of the play, we see it happen at least twice. The real challenge for me has been to get down deep and find the humanity and the 'real person' inside all that craziness."

Joining McDaniel and Fischer, senior Matthew Martin (A Little Night Music, Marat/Sade) plays Prior's boyfriend Louis Ironson, and senior Taylor Crousore (Take Me Out, Blood Brothers) tackles his love interest, Joseph Pitt. Junior Andrew Benowich (Hamlet) plays Roy Cohn, and third-year M.F.A. acting candidate Jaysen Wright (Rabbit Hole, Take Me Out) plays Belize.

Joe's mother Hannah Pitt is played by senior Hana Slevin (A Little Night Music, Marat/Sade), and junior Liza Summers makes her Norvelle Center debut as The Angel. Supporting cast members include junior Nicole Bruce (Marat/ Sade, As You Like It) as Ethel Rosenberg, senior Marty Brent (Blood Brothers, Oklahoma!), sophomore Thomas Beaver (Hay Fever), and freshman Jackson Goldberg.

Joining the cast is an experienced team of student designers including second-year M.F.A. students Tim Barbiaux (scenic design) and Jason Orlenko (costume design) as well as first-year M.F.A. student Amanda Wray (lighting design). Third-year M.F.A. student Chris Wood is the sound designer for the production, and second-year M.F.A. candidate Sean Dumm is the technical director.

To see information about the entire cast and production team, in addition to details about the rest of the 2010-11 season, visit

Interview requests should be directed to John Kinzer, 812-855-0514 or