The Hypocrites’ Sean Graney may not have Tony Kushner’s sheer intellectual firepower, or his cozy place in the hearts of the New York press, but the Hypocrites’ artistic director shares with the playwright both a fearless theatrical ambition and a tendency toward self-indulgence. Both are on display in this co-production, with Bailiwick, of the first part of Kushner’s magnum opus. When Kushner and Graney’s strengths align, the results are frequently magical. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strongest parts of the production are the hallucinatory reveries experienced by the AIDS-stricken Prior (Scott Bradley) and the Valium-popping Harper (Mechelle Moe). Harper’s solipsistic transport to Antarctica is at once gorgeous and chilling, the fulfillment of her Judy Garland trajectory, while the Angel’s closing annunciation to Prior miraculously fulfills Kushner’s Chekhovian stage direction, “A sound, like a plummeting meteor, tears down from very, very far above the earth.” Graney and Jim Moore’s set design, relying on coffins that double as desks, hospital beds and dressing tables, strike an effectively somber tone. But persistent weaknesses in performance highlight the script’s talkiness and lack of dramatic momentum. Kurt Ehrmann in the pivotal role of Roy Cohn inexplicably sounds and looks like Joe Piscopo impersonating Frank Sinatra. His Cohn remains nothing more than a bully and blowhard, lacking the oleaginous charm that makes Cohn Satanically seductive. The crucial confrontations between Louis (Steve Wilson) and Prior and between Harper and Joe (JB Waterman) too often devolve into histrionic shouting. Graney has nailed the look of the play, but he hasn’t yet cracked bringing Kushner’s difficult creations to life. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.