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Kushner's glorious 'Angels' fly high in 7-hour show

Zachary Quinto as Louis Ironson and Christian Borle

Zachary Quinto as Louis Ironson and Christian Borle as Prior Walter in Signature Theatre Company's production of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part 1: Millennium Approaches." Credit: Joan Marcus

The Angel has landed again, at long last, and all's right with the world. Amend that. All's deliriously right in a theater world where Tony Kushner's monumental, subversive, altogether remarkable masterwork, "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," can be seen - in all its gargantuan seven-hour, two-part, big-brain glory - at the tiny Signature Theatre Company.

Yes, details of specific catastrophes have changed since the first part of the Reagan-era AIDS epic, "Millennium Approaches," won the Pulitzer and the Tony in 1993 and the second part, the messier, yet still wonderful "Perestroika" won the Tony in 1994. But the real cosmic and human obsessions - power, religion, sex, responsibility, the future of the world - are as perilous, yet as falling down funny as ever.

You see, if "Angels" is about anything - and it just might be about everything - it's about the struggle between staying the course and the need to change. At its most vast, this means the need to keep exploring - through geography and gender - even without a theory to guide where we'll end up.

Director Michael Greif and the eight indefatigable actors keep the fierce and luscious soul of the original while infusing Kushner's 30-odd characters with their individuality. ("Angels" junkies will have plenty of material for games of compare and complain.)

Christian Borle is an irresistible earthy wrath as Prior Walter, stunned to find himself chosen by God's ineffectual and abandoned angels to stop the seismic changes that are pushing life from the "merely impossible" to the "completely unbearable." Prior has been abandoned by his neurotic, self-judging Jewish lover (the aptly tormented Zachary Quinto).

Bill Heck is perfect - straight-arrow and desperate - as the closeted gay Mormon lawyer. Zoe Kazan, as his childlike, almost feral Valium-addled wife, keeps this problematic character from ever being annoying. Robin Bartlett is stern and compassionate as the Mormon mother and exquisitely plain-spoken as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who haunts Roy Cohn to his death, then channels the Kaddish over him.

Frank Wood is oddly internalized as the bravura monster Cohn, which undercuts the gleeful horror and buries some major lines. Billy Porter has an unmannered flair as Cohn's nurse, and Robin Weigert delivers the Angel's messages with an endearing worried look, though without the original's disturbing cough.

Departing from the stark Broadway version, Greif uses gray-on-gray video projections, infused with colored lights, to whisk us around the city, the heavens and mutual hallucinations. Still the magic never loses the scary, yet charming feel of sense of homemade awe.

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