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Stage review: 'Angels' remains powerful as ever

"ANGELS IN AMERICA," Salt Lake Acting Company, through Nov. 7, 801-363-7522, running times: 3 hours, 10 minutes (two intermissions)

Winner of several writing and dramatic awards, including the 1993 Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for drama, "Angels in America" returns to Salt Lake Acting Company for the first time in 15 years.

The theater was one of the first regional theater companies to mount the play in 1995. Fifteen years later, SLAC revisits the groundbreaking work as a kickoff to its 40th season.

Directed by Keven Myhre, the SLAC production is completely different from the last time they did the piece, but it is every bit as powerful.

The play is, primarily, about two couples.

The first, a gay couple struggling with AIDS. As Prior's (Lucas Bybee) condition worsens, his partner, Louis (Alexis Baigue), is unable to handle watching Prior's decline, and though racked with guilt, abandons him.

The other two are a Mormon couple from Salt Lake City who have relocated to New York. (References to the LDS religion are minimal.) The wife, Harper (Christy Summerhays), doesn't handle the move well and has resorted to Valium to help her cope.

Joseph (Alexander Bala), a Republican lawyer, has his sights set on Washington. But with questions about his own sexuality, and a self-medicating wife, Joe feels more isolated than ever.

Another key player is the ruthless, power-hungry Roy Cohn (Charles Lynn Frost), a powerful attorney who, due to his own issues with labels, refuses to believe he's been infected with AIDS.

Myhre has assembled a very fine cast of actors who give wonderful, moving performances. Nell Gwynn, Summerhays, Frost, Baigue and Bybee are particularly memorable.

It should be noted: "Angels in America" does have one scene when Prior goes to the doctor for a checkup.

As the nurse examines him, he removes his clothes and stands completely naked. Some companies choose not to include the nudity, but SLAC stayed with the written script, which is meant to illustrate the vulnerability and lack of dignity such exams might cause.

Myhre's set is very functional, allowing for quick set changes. James M. Craig's lighting helps differentiate between dream states and reality, and K.L. Alberts' costumes helped further define the characters.

SLAC will also offer a reading of "Angels in America: Part 2 Perestroika," featuring the same cast, Nov. 5-7.

Sensitivity rating: Strong profanity, male nudity and sexual situations.

e-mail: ehansen@desnews.com