Stephen Jackman-Torkoff and Damien Atkins in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. Photo by David Cooper.
Stephen Jackman-Torkoff and Damien Atkins in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. Photo by David Cooper.

Having closed out its last Stanley Theatre season with the first half of Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in America, the Arts Club returns with Part Two: Perestroika as the opener for its new season.

An exploration of politics, religion, sexuality, and love against a backdrop of the 1980’s AIDS crisis during the Reagan era, Kushner’s massive Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play has been heralded as a contemporary masterpiece.

At the helm of the production once again is director Kim Collier. Vancouver Presents caught up with Collier by phone during a lunch break while rehearsing for the show’s September opening.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Part One of Angels in America isn’t always produced along with Part Two. How important was it for you to be able to do both?

For me, it was absolutely essential. I didn’t want to do just one, because I feel like it’s one story, and when you only do Part One you leave the audience hanging in a really challenging position.

You open up a bunch of stuff, but you haven’t done what great theater can do, which is lead your audience toward a place of catharsis, and in this case, collective mourning, and many of the gifts that Kushner has to offer in terms of how we can overcome things.

So when you get to the end, there’s hope. There’s progress. There’s possibility, and I think it’s really important that you get to that place with your audience.

Kim Collier returns to direct the conclusion of Angels in America.
Kim Collier returns to direct the conclusion of Angels in America.

You also had the ability to bring the cast together for both parts as well. Was that just as important for you?

Yes, absolutely. I wanted the whole team to travel this project together. All of the designers, all the actors. There’s a real integrity to that, and deep knowledge that is built inside your ensemble when they’ve worked on Part One, and then they bring that world into Part Two.

I’ve never had an experience quite like this before. I’ve returned to shows where we’ve remounted them and deepened it or made some adjustments, but in this case, you have an ensemble that has lived and breathed through Kushner’s writing in Millennium, and they are inside that story and that full experience.

It’s really, really amazing. We wouldn’t have that, all the insight and all the depth that we have, if we didn’t have the same cast.

Did you have any issues in terms of getting people that were willing to commit all that time, or were people on board right away?

No, I wouldn’t say there were issues, because the play is so good, and the company we were building was so excited. People wanted to be part of it. We had actors turn down working at the Shaw Festival. We had actors turn down all kinds of things. They wanted to be part of this story, and they understand it’s an important story to tell.

Did you learn anything from directing Part One that you’re bringing to Part Two?

I never doubted that Angels in America was absolutely relevant and important, like any great play that wrestles deep into our soul and really struggles with who we are.

A lot of people will look at Angels in America and go, “Oh, well it was the AIDS crisis, and that was another time period, why is it relevant now?”

I think we’ve clearly seen that Angels in America is resonating in our current political climate. It’s right on the cusp of what we need to be thinking about and asking. That is really clear and I think everybody feels that coming out of Millennium and into Perestroika.

The other challenging thing about this material is it behaves differently. It’s not like a normal play. It has all kinds of mysterious happenings and curious structures. Having done Millennium we have an understanding of how the material lives inside the actors on the stage and with the audience, so we can just bring that right into this process.

Part One and Part Two are separated by four months? Was that necessity or by design?

The Arts Club Theatre Company will present part two of Kushner's Angels in America as the opener to its 2017/2018 season. Photo by David Cooper.
The Arts Club Theatre Company presents part two of Kushner’s Angels in America as the opener to its 2017/2018 season. Photo by David Cooper.

That was by necessity. We had a very long discussion between myself and the team and the Arts Club. I really wanted the shows to run back-to-back, but producing what is essentially seven hours of theater all at once was just a little tricky.

There came a point where it just seemed more doable for the Arts Club to take this on if they split it across two seasons. Although I worked very, very hard to have it happen continuously because of the gifts I wanted the audience to have.

When it got separated, I asked to keep the two productions as close as possible. Perestroika could have fallen in any part of the second season, but it was very important that it was first out of the gate to get it as close as possible to Millennium.

Do you worry at all about audiences having difficulty relating to Part Two with the time in between?

The most important thing to me is to take care of an audience, and I of course want the audience to have a deeply rich relationship to the story and its characters. We’re going to recap with a synopsis of the plot where we left off. Perestroika itself is an amazing play, so I think it’ll be fine.

What about those who haven’t seen Part One?

You’re going to have a powerful experience with Perestroika. You’re going to have even a more powerful experience if you’ve already had a relationship to the characters from seeing Millennium. If you read the synopsis that will be provided to you when you come, you’ll have a sense of where things are at and then you’ll just take off with the characters.

Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika plays the Stanley Industrial Alliance (2750 Granville St, Vancouver) from September 7 through October 8. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information