Atlanta’s Actor’s Express Finds Kushner’s ‘Angels In America’ Relevant As Ever

Co-directors Freddie Ashley and Martin Damien Wilkins talked with "City Lights" host Lois Reitzes about the Actor’s Express production of “Angels in America.”
Credit Myke Johns / WABE

An epic work of contemporary American theater is coming back to Atlanta as Actor’s Express puts both parts of “Angels in America” onstage.

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The story is set in New York City in 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and through a tapestry of characters, it explores sex, religion, politics and the unique identity crisis of America at the end of the 20th century.

The work earned playwright Tony Kushner a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 as well as a pair of Tony Awards.

The work has seen a number of revivals recently, notably a 2017 London production starring Nathan Lane that is heading to Broadway in the spring. This is partly owing to the character of Roy Cohn, who is one of the show’s main characters. In real life, he was Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during the Red Scare and was a mentor to Donald Trump.

“The way Tony Kushner used Roy Cohn, he really represents a part of America that, while certainly lived out loud in a lot of ways, also kept parts of their lives in the shadows,” co-director Martin Damien Wilkins tells “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes. “As we well know, Roy Cohn was also a closeted gay man who ultimately succumbed to AIDS during the period in which the play is set.”

“Kushner is really setting up two potential versions of what America could be,” co-director and Actor’s Express artistic director Freddie Ashley says. “One is a place built on the relentless and blind pursuit of power at all costs, and Roy represents that vision of America. And then the other vision of America is a place of beauty and compassion and acceptance. I think Tony Kushner is saying there’s this tension or battle between these two versions constantly for the soul of the country.”

“Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches” opens Friday at Actor’s Express. “Part Two: Perestroika” opens Jan. 20, and both are running in repertory through Feb. 17.