The Dickinson Community Players (DCP) have a track record of taking risks when it comes to selecting shows. This past October, they put on “Juvenilia,” which revolved around a threesome. Now, in perhaps their most ambitious project yet, DCP is taking on Part One of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” “Angels,” which is seven hours long in its entirety, is divided into two parts: “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika.” This weekend, DCP will perform “Millennium Approaches,” which focuses on the intertwined stories of two couples, one gay and one straight.
“Millennium Approaches” is part historical drama. Joe Pitt, married to Harper, is offered a job in the Justice Department working for Roy Cohn, the lawyer who worked for Joseph McCarthy and famously helped prosecute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage. Ethel Rosenberg herself also appears, as a ghost. Set in 1985, the play also tackles the AIDS epidemic — Prior Walter, a character in a relationship with another man, has the condition and suffers without proper care.
Truly encompassing America, the play’s settings range from the Bronx to a surreal Alaskan landscape. These sweeping scenes are ambitiously portrayed within the limits of a small cast and budget, especially according to director Tori Scalzo, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.
“It was challenging, creating the show with Kushner’s image in mind while still being a DCP show with our black box minimalist charm,” Scalzo said.
The main characters cross after Joe Pitt finds Louis Ironson, who is in a relationship with Walter, crying in a courthouse bathroom. They strike up an unusual friendship after Ironson suspects Joe, who is married, of being gay himself. Aside from the two couples, the show follows the stories of five other major characters, some of whom never interact with each other.
“There are never more than three people in a scene,” Scalzo said. “But for that reason, they interact on a very intimate level.”
Jared Gordon, a junior majoring in psychology, plays both Prior Walter, Louis Ironson’s boyfriend, and the anonymous character Louis cheats with in Central Park. Gordon said nearly every actor plays more than one role, which is one way DCP could stage a play with so many characters.
The themes of homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic naturally lend the play comparisons to “Rent,” which was performed as a Mainstage production only a few weeks ago. Assistant director Jonah Lipton thinks that “Angels” has more gravitas than “Rent.”
“Some people say it’s ‘Rent’ without the music, but that’s not this show,” said Lipton, a freshman majoring in actuarial science. “This is far more serious, it has far more depth especially and dealing with AIDS. It’s not about AIDS, it’s about people.”
Indeed, the show delivers something original and poignant. Kevin Gleeson, who plays Joe Pitt, remembered a powerful moment in the play that required two scenes to be played at the same time.
“There’s a part where two scenes are going on simultaneously, and the parallels are really powerful,” said Gleeson, a senior majoring in economics. “In one, my character collapses, and his wife runs offstage. In the other, the character Louis leaves Prior, and Prior starts to scream. Once Louis has left him, Prior says, ‘Everything hurts.’ That’s one of the darkest scenes.”
Gleeson understands that the depth of the characters makes the play such a challenge to perform.
“It’s hard to get into the shoes of characters like this,” he said. “I’m a straight guy trying to play a closet homosexual, and it’s some of the hardest work I’ve had to do as an actor.”
Nina Kozak, who plays Harper, sees a universal truth in the play that one can take away after the curtains fall.
“Prior’s sitting at his vanity applying makeup, and he finds a new lesion,” said Kozak, an undeclared freshman. “He says, ‘One wants, but one so seldom gets what one wants.’ People want to accomplish things, they want to live to their fullest potential, but things get in the way, things that are irreversible.”
Performances will take place in the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center Multipurpose Room at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 7, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 8. Tickets are $3 at the door.