Hungary's premier stage offers a striking revival of Tony Kushner's groundbreaking play
In Serban's considerably pared down version, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika together come in at just under four hours, separated by a short intermission. There are naturally some sacrifices entailed. The subplot involving Roy Cohn (played by the National's brilliant János Kulka), for example, takes a big hit in terms of stage time. But whatever the faults of the production, the exuberant, ironical tone feels aptly knowing, as does the rotating stage set up like a cross between a dance floor and a merry-go-round.
In just one example of the production's winking conversation with the audience, an announcement over the PA system at the outset of Part II reminds patrons in this former Soviet bloc country that the play is set in a far off land bearing little resemblance to anything close by — only to be followed by the familiar twang of an electric guitar as the Beatles' "Back in the USSR" creates a musical bridge to a speech by the Oldest Living Bolshevik. Like Prior's heavenly counselors, the Bolshevik urges a halt to history. The significance of the theme is unlikely to be lost on an audience facing the atavistic return to authoritarian models of the past.
While this isn't the first time a Hungarian theater has essayed Kushner's play, enough has changed politically in Hungary in the last few years to make this production, in which Alföldi assumes the role of the play's cross-dressing openly gay hero, an act of brazen defiance as well as solidarity with all "outsiders" in the right wing's narrow compass of nationhood.
"The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come," says Alföldi as Prior. "The great work begins." In its own call for "more life," the National's production captures something of the original life of the play all over again — defining the nation and its theater as a place of empathy and inclusion, of harmony in difference.
Meanwhile, tickets for Angels in America, widely seen as Alföldi's farewell bow, are completely sold out.