Theater Review: Fantastic production at Rockford College

Angels in America is a challenge for any professional theater company. Jeff Hendry faces that challenge and has mounted an outstanding production of Tony Kushner’s story of the politics and personal tragedies of the AIDS crisis. Set in the ’80s during the Reagan administration, it is a series of stories of the famous and the infamous dealing with the effects of a still-mysterious illness. Striking first at the gay community, the effect on relationships is devastating.

Hendry has an amazing cast. While still in the early stages of production, he received word from David Weincek, a professional actor from New York who began his acting career as a student at Rockford College. Inquiring about the play, he asked if a guest appearance was possible. An agreement was made, and his dream of playing Prior Walter was fulfilled. The students who appear in the remaining roles display the sophistication of actors with years of experience. Derik Marcussen is Roy Cohn, a foulmouthed bigot hiding his homosexuality from his political cronies. As Joe Pitt, Alan Wales battles to find his sexual identity and still continue a “normal” marriage with Harper (Alexis Martino). Martino is excellent as the confused wife addicted to Valium, whose drug-induced dreams compensate for a lost love.

As Louis Ironson, James Rodriguez plays the role originally done by Rockford’s Joe Mantello. Louis’ years with Prior end when he finds AIDS an insurmountable obstacle. Erin Connor is Hannah Pitt, Joe’s Mormon mother; Amber Wines, Sister Elle Chapter and Ethel Rosenberg; Steven Haddad, Mr. Lies and Prior Walter II; Sarah Palmer, Homeless Woman, and as a recovering black drag queen; Charles Matlock is Belize. Keith Emroll expertly plays the Rabbi, Cohn’s doctor, and Prior I. His work is recognized locally, and this performance enhances his repertoire.

Noel Rennerfeldt’s scenery and lighting add another dimension. Dozens of scenes require innovative staging, and Rennerfeldt accomplishes this beautifully. Hendry’s forte is costuming, and Angels in America exemplifies some of his best work. Katharine Cikanek as the angel is exquisite, and her dramatic appearance climaxes the show.

Too much cannot be said about the quality of the show. Running three hours, there was not a dull moment. Angels in America provides a memorable theater experience. This show needs an extended run.

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