2023/2024 — Season 68
Tony Kushner

Angels in America

Directed by: Nina Rajić Kranjac
Millennium Approaches and Perestroika
Based on the translation by Katja Zakrajšek
Première: 15. 10. 2023
Monday / 27 May / 17:00 / Lower hall and Mladinsko yard / Buy ticket
Wednesday / 29 May / 17:00 / Lower hall and Mladinsko yard / Sold out
Monday / 10 Jun / 18:00 / SNT Maribor
Saturday / 22 Jun / 18:00 / Lower hall and Mladinsko yard / Buy ticket
Monday / 24 Jun / 18:00 / Lower hall and Mladinsko yard / Buy ticket
Wednesday / 26 Jun / 18:00 / Lower hall and Mladinsko yard / Buy ticket
Friday / 28 Jun / 18:00 / Lower hall and Mladinsko yard / Buy ticket
  • Dramaturgy: Dino Pešut
  • Set design: Urša Vidic
  • Costume design: Marina Sremac
  • Music: Branko Rožman
  • Assistant director: Jaka Smerkolj Simoneti
  • Set designer assistant: Maruša Mali
  • Outside eye: Tibor Hrs Pandur
  • Language consultant (Slovene): Mateja Dermelj
  • Lighting design: Mojca Sarjaš
  • Sound design: Sven Horvat, Branko Rožman, Marijan Sajovic
  • Make-up artist: Nathalie Horvat
  • Stage manager: Liam Hlede
  • Stage managers (rehearsals): Demijan Pinterič, Jera Topolovec

After its world première, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes became a theatre event—the canon of the late twentieth-century and an authentic artistic manifesto of the era accumulating the excess of history. The expansive two-part drama in eight acts explores a series of paradoxes—life surrounded by death, hope eroded by despair, rage at the heart of tenderness. In his work, Kushner captures the late twentieth century, specifically the winter between 1985 and 1986—the time of monsters, when the old world was disintegrating and crumbling, and the new world was yet to be established; a time when the old gods are falling and new ones are not yet born; when youth is dying, and old ideas are anchoring like weeds waiting to be uprooted. 

Angels in America is a drama with a sharp and wide diagonal. A drama uniting the living and the dead, paradise and hell, left and right, communism and capitalism, angels and humans, saints and demons, disco and funerals. This is a time of disaster and of necessity. Tectonic plates are moving, death is drawing concentric circles, and the apocalypse is waiting anxiously. The narrative follows the terrified children of a cruel era—both healthy and sick, whose lives, engulfed by the AIDS epidemic, boil down to a few friendly ties and coincidences. Somewhere in New York City, an unimaginable lovers’ quadrangle is closing up; at a time when only death is aplenty, all of them are demanding more life and more love on top of it all. And every single one of them, though exposed and vulnerable, and despite the risk and ban, will continue to run around, grab and crave—to gorge on life.

In the media

In addition to scenography and stage effects, acting interpretations also contribute to the comprehensive mode. The cast of the production functions as a well-tuned piano: the actors skilfully juggle different styles, they are focused and dedicated to tackling their roles, and we must emphasise that almost all actors play more than one. The actors mobilise all their bodies, ready to underscore the physicality of their characters as a predicament – in Prior’s vision, Louis and Joe Pitt simulate a sex scene in moist sand completely naked – with their psychological state being equally taxing, something we can see in the excellent scene in which Harper Pitt, in one of her hallucinating episodes, uses a coat stand to climb onto an elevated platform. Additionally, all the actors interpret their roles with a certain Brechtian distance, they’re all a little ‘off’ and often in the sense of a caricature. […] Six and a half hours pass in a blink of an eye. Such is the impact of these Angels. I could watch them for hours more and I definitely plan to see them again. The temporal dimensions of the production benefit from the regular change of scenes, which gives the spectators the sense that they 'participate', that they are active and not just passively watching. Another exceptional thing is the use of the outside spaces, so that the spectators have a possibility, and not just during the intervals, to get some fresh air, which is an element we cannot underestimate in a six-hour-long production. The authorial team managed to mine from this chrono-topically and thematically very ’concrete’ and ‘determined’ production (keywords: America, the eighties, AIDS) all its timelessness and actuality for an environment that is perhaps not its primary audience, that is, a (post-)Yugoslav, (post-)transitional society, whether it is about the universally important themes of gay rights – and gay-rights-as-human-rights-and-liberties, or another, recent global health crisis (of course, the coronavirus pandemic) or the burden of the oppressive political system, both present (capitalist) and past (communist).

The Mladinsko Theatre commissioned the translations of both plays from Katja Zakrajšek, a specialist in modern registers and gender-sensitive use of language. […] Angels as done by Nina Rajič Kranjac constantly gives us an impression that there is a ‘bigger drama’ playing out and the production adds on social layers. We listen to Reagan’s speeches on the one side, and on the other, we get a complete short course of the Russian 20th century, a rise and fall of a bright and failed idea. We see how Russia killed its citizens, and we see how America kills its own by not providing them with affordable health care. We see people in hazmat suits, which inevitably brings up memories of our own epidemic and all the social fissures that were revealed during its course. […] Nataša Keser, at least, must be mentioned as one of the production’s high points. In addition to Kushner’s distribution of human and angelic tasks she also predominantly carries what this production contributed to Angels, that is, mostly questioning our readiness for the end and perhaps another beginning.

Although the show does not expect any special interaction from the audience or cooperation from them beyond changing locations, it presents us with an experience that is all the more memorable: involvement. The wittiness, the existential dread we all face and yet often conceal, the relationship struggles, the identity crises, are all obstacles that everyone faces. Instead of just showing us the seemingly (to us) extreme conditions these characters are in, instead of putting them on a moral pedestal or attempting to make them somehow more than human, the production ensures they remain exactly that: human. Nina Rajić Kranjac’s performance goes beyond the stereotyping that usually characterises depictions of unusual mental states, queer characters, or any other kind of societal deviation. It goes deeper than that. It must be said that the Mladinsko ensemble is beyond reproach – as is usual, they are the strongest element of the performance. Each one of them radiates a presence that make the characters not only believable, but also alive. And although some directorial choices, like the decision to stage so much of the play outside, might make us question the sanity of the creators, and the length of the show could arguably be reduced, it is still an extremely powerful performance, one full of life.

Rather than with the explicit and direct inclusion of contemporary stories into Kushner’s narrative, the production relies on the power of suggestive images that capture the essence of our collective memory and reproduce the moments that left an imprint in our consciousness in the past few years. […] The production is always aware that rejects’ scenes occur beyond theatre and points its focus directly to the hypocritical position of a petty bourgeois (and doesn’t exclude itself from this) who talks about the distress of others, creates productions about them, writes articles and similar. […] Another sign that every member of this production understands its mission in creating the ideological concept is the finely tuned honed collective acting by Primož Bezjak, Damjana Černe, Nataša Keser, Boris Kos, Klemen Kovačič, Jerko Marčić, Anja Novak, Adrian Pezdirc and Stane Tomazin, who sovereignly enter this firmly constructed world and throw themselves, without deviations, into researching the inner worlds of their characters. Although they interpret them in the exceptionally dramatic manner (and not in a bad sense), they nevertheless retain the degree of distance, self-irony, even covert cynism, written into the dramatic script. The actors capture the complexity of their characters in their performance, and reveal their shortcomings, vulnerabilities and particularities. They skilfully manoeuvre the emotional peaks and vales and never avoid their passionate and at times inconstant nature. With this, they enact the vision of characters that are not simply archetypal figures but also individuals that reflect the complexity of human experiences.

What is exciting is the directorial concept of the hallucination during which two ancestors visit Prior and challenge him to prove to himself that, despite being ill with AIDS, his destiny is not simply death. Adrian Pezdirc begins by reciting his own identity markers – from having a grandfather from Metlika to feeling Stonewall inside himself as he is trying to prove to his ancestors that the fact that Prior is ill with AIDS is not his only personal circumstance worth mentioning. […] Cohn’s suffering is not the suffering of a homosexual ill with AIDS – the disease of the marginalised gay mob, but the suffering of an aristocratic republican heterosexual who has sexual relations with men, so, as a class critique of the health care system, it is also shown indirectly – on television, which is one of the cleverer and more refreshing directorial decisions. […] At the end of the production, the audience is faced with the fundamental question: from what soil does Western freedom grow? The answer is not served on a tray, we have to dig it from the memories of the past six hours which, under the directorial baton of Nina Rajić Kranjac, passed marked with subtle ironizing of the American society, which on the back of its hegemony decides about the freedom of marginalised groups at home and abroad.

Dino Pešut’s dramaturgy (also) leaned on improvisational elements, created during this process – thus introduced elements of the socialist ‘spectre’ as the eternal fear of all and any American politicians, Chernobyl, food of the poor (boiled potatoes), bomb explosions have a very special way to set up the dialogue with today’s global political (anti)situation. The hierarchical model of all the spectres in the world – health, military or economic – is always the same: the extremely oppressed and the extremely privileged. The difference is always only the one of class. In this context of the idea of a globalised world, America must be understood as today’s hyper-polarised world, and the angels as all the invisible victims of half-crazy ideas, grandiose political ignorance and the readiness for horror. […A]ll the compliments to the inventive directing that dared to demand time of its audience, and also concentration and minimal interaction, movement. It is nice to see a director who doesn’t underestimate the audience but rather encourages it.

The production generally remains faithful to the text, the exceptionally well-crafted personalities of the dramatic characters are a perfect fit for most of the cast, with the most positive surprise being Primož Bezjak as Belize, the former drag queen. The articulateness and the energy of the actors, together with the extremely meaningful dialogues keep the action alive despite the play’s length […]. The elements of light, the reverberation of sound, shadowing, fog and the use of the semi-circular architecture of the Akademski kolegij inner courtyard establish a mystical atmosphere, theatre becomes a playing field where miracles can happen. […] Theatre language understands the proximity of death, it is increasingly becoming a temple, and it is this excessive theatralisation, this use of external spaces and the sublimeness of the visual that give it the clear director’s signature. Nina Rajić Kranjac innovatively graduates and intertwines the peculiar theatre language, with this lengthy event she draws attention to the toxic dimension of forced heterosexuality, typical of all levels of society, and to the smallness of individual life in relation to global politics, and even more so to one’s one finiteness.

This more than six hours long production (which includes two intervals) begins and ends outside the theatre hall, it even takes us to the rarely used inner courtyard of the Akademski kolegij, which turns out to be a very rewarding setting. […] It is worth singling out Nataša Keser, who is fantastically convincing in all of her roles, particularly as the nurse and the inclement, authoritative angel, Adrian Pezdirc shows all the nuances of tenderness, fragility, and at the same time strength and tenacity of the AIDS-stricken Prior Walter. Anja Novak manages to breathe life, blood and character into miserable and lonely Mormon Harper, who finds solace for her husband’s absence in pills. With different directorial techniques and a clever use of scenography and different sets, Nina Rajić Kranjac ambitiously builds a story and cleverly opens a multitude of topics for which we can easily find the parallels or outlets in the contemporary times (the coronavirus pandemic, wars, religious conflict and the LGBTQ+ community), navigates between the real and dream worlds, the comic and the tragic. The production is further enriched by the number of languages in which it is performed (they all come with translations); in addition to Slovenian and Croatian, we can also hear English, French, Yiddish and some Aramaic.

Under the Titled Angels in America, the plays Millenium Aproaches and Perestroika, initially conceived as independent parts, merged into a monumental, incredible seven-hour whole. For a spectator to sit motionless in the darkness of a theatre hall for seven hours (albeit with intermissions) and even enjoy it, it takes an absolutely brilliant piece. The Slovenian production of Angels in America, which we could see in the Mladinsko theatre, was indeed a bit shorter, but it faithfully followed Kushner’s text and vision and it captured the spirit of the piece so that with its scarce scenography and the obvious breaking down the fourth wall it allowed the spectators to openly follow the changes onstage and the flow from scene to scene, the transformations of the actors from character to character. The production began at the entrance to the theatre, in icy rain, and then moved to the Mladinsko Lower Hall, on two occasions leading the audience to the inner courtyard of the building where the cast played the magistral, feverish climax of the production, a storm of half-naked bodies, smoke and militant angelic proclamations.

A long, persistent voyage through the stormy sea, full of unpredictable and unknown adventures, a bit like the voyage of all those who set off to America in search of a better future, just society and a kinder life. Such is the impression that the whole provides, and those who have just got off the boat also escort the spectators on the journey. The time ellipse takes the spectator to the America of the early 1980s: into a society of a relatively orderly world, that thing enters: the incurable disease, the plague, AIDS. Labelled as the disease of the homosexuals it reveals everything – from the intimate relationships to the political top, social structures collapse like a house of cards. […] A complex production that travels through material and non-material times and places, is a successful product by a creative team lead by Nina Rajić Kranjac.

Guest performances

  • Maribor Theatre Festival, Maribor, Slovenia, 10 June 2024
Press downloads

Thanks: Demijan Pintarič, Jera Topolovec, Studia humanitatis Publishing House