By the time that Angels premiered in 1991, mainstream American views were not substantially different from this Mike Wallace report
March 13, 2014
Players by the Sea will be presenting Angels in America for the first time on a Jacksonville stage, a fact which speaks reams about the state of theatre in the Bold New City of the South. In many ways, the production is itself both Milestone and Millstone for the dramatic arts.
Milestone because it's about damned time. Millstone because it is long past time, and the length of time it took for our local theatres to brave it is, frankly, a bit of an embarrassment.
Before you read on, here is how to get tickets to the Players by the Sea performance of the show: http://www.playersbythesea.org/angels-in-america.html
Buy tickets, because the show is worth seeing - regardless of the grousing and criticisms about to follow.
On hearing the news I was involuntarily taken back to the founding of the Springfield Theatre District, (2002-2006, when several groups combined to open venues and create experimental productions that had never been seen in Jville) and a curious episode that involved 'Angels in America'.
It was 2002, and many of the people involved in the downtown Art Loft Scene at the turn of the millennium had decided to make the move to the largely abandoned and ghettoized Springfield neighborhood.
We had been specializing in underserved arts for a couple of years (modern and interpretive dance, spoken word, poetry, emerging painters, multimedia and conceptual art, and original performance art). The Times Union had written an article about the new projects and our intention to produce non-mainstream art and performance. I had been quoted saying that you can get all the Oklahoma! you can stand in the community theaters but that we were going to do something different. A little edgier.
The community response was a little amazing in its own microcosmic kind of way.
Not one word of reproach or reproof from the allegedly culture-killing Conservative Baptists in town.
What stood out was the curiously negative response from the community theaters, an example of which you can find here.
As a result of which, I was suddenly made aware of both the educational director and Tony Alligretti, the marketing 'guru' (remember when we still used that term?) of Theatre Jacksonville.
Many of us on Main Street were invited to attend an opening party at a recently repurposed elementary school in Springfield that had turned into a pretty cool loft project. It was owned by Paul Shockey and apparently Alligretti had a minor ownership interest in the project. Many of the city mucky mucks were there, including the mayor at the time, John Delaney.
I found myself in one of the rooms being yelled at by a slightly intoxicated Alligretti---who I had never met until that moment. He was eager to revisit my remark in the Times Union.
"Oklahoma! hadn't even been performed in Jacksonville since the 1960s!" I was informed, astoundingly. (Factually, in 1987 the hoary musical had been produced three separate times in the same season by the various production companies, leading to a front page article in VUE Magazine---I hadn't chosen the show title casually--about the embarrassing lack of coordination with the theaters.)
Further, Alligretti let me know in no uncertain terms that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about as Theatre Jacksonville was actually on the Cutting Edge of theatre. Nationally….. Fact!
With the kind of patience that I try and reserve for people who have either been drinking or are in over their head (or both, in this case) I calmly tried to make the case and perhaps build a bridge.
Theatre Jacksonville (with whom I have never had a quarrel) was certainly a cute, well established little/community theatre at the time, but I don't think any sober person has ever described its productions as 'cutting edge' since the 1930s when it actually was. It was fresh off a season that included The Glass Menagerie and a few other shows that I couldn't recall at the moment. I was somewhat bemused and taken aback. I decided on a reasonable response.
"Well certainly some of the shows at TJ are great and all, but you have to admit that it will be many years before something like 'Angels In America' will be produced there."