Tony Kushner's two-part epic "Angels in America" is being staged in Seattle by ReAct Theatre and Absurd Reality Theatre. Part 2's "Perestroika" has a fabulous mounting from ReAct.

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Theater Review |

Epic, angry, raw and prescient — filled with moments that ricochet from tragic to tender to scorchingly funny all in a nanosecond — Tony Kushner’s two-part “Angels in America” is one of the most brilliant pieces written for the modern stage.

Created in the early 1990s, the play is fueled by Kushner’s fear, despair and rage over America’s refusal to confront the AIDS epidemic. He subtitled his work “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” and that’s what it is — a fevered fantasy of misguided politics, gender confusion, clashing religions and betrayal.

Both plays — “Part One: Millennium Approaches” and “Part Two: Perestroika” — won the Tony for best play in 1993 and 1994, respectively. Then in 1994-95, Seattle’s Intiman Theatre mounted a memorable production of each show.

Now ReAct Theatre, in partnership with Absurd Reality Theatre, is presenting these works with two different casts. “Millennium Approaches,” produced by Absurd Reality Theatre, plays in the Poncho Forum at Seattle Rep. “Perestroika,” directed by ReAct’s artistic director David Hsieh, is running at the Ethnic Cultural Theatre in the U District.

And ReAct’s “Perestroika” is a dynamite show. It crackles with wit and bravery, taking lots of chances. It morphs melodrama into gritty realism; it twists solemnity into burlesque; and it gives spiritual shock and awe a refreshing jolt of caustic humor.

In short, it’s really smart, bracing and funny — painful funny, playful funny, sad funny.

Hsieh is an exciting director who hasn’t yet received his due. What he does here with his fearless cast is create some of the best ensemble work I’ve seen this year.

“Perestroika” picks up the dual stories of Harper and Joe Pitt (Angela DiMarco and Mats Ecklund), an estranged Mormon couple, and the supercharged relationships of a trio of gay New York friends. Joe has left his wife and come to New York, where he falls in love with Louis (Alex Garnett), a tortured Jewish intellectual who has left Prior (Brandon Simmons), his AIDS-stricken boyfriend. Meanwhile, Roy Cohn (Dennis Kleinsmith), a famous and ruthless lawyer and Joe’s former boss, lies in a hospital bed dying of AIDS.

As Prior’s condition worsens, he is visited by the Angel (Toni Rose), who names him as a prophet.

Under Hsieh’s sensitive direction, Kushner’s metaphysical melodrama crackles and pops with solid performances from the entire cast, especially Kleinsmith as tortured bigot Cohn, and DiMarco, who makes Harper’s deluded, overmedicated fight for sanity both painful and hilarious.

Scenic designer Edward Ross creates a no-nonsense set that is really quite versatile; lighting designer Evan Merryman Ritter supplies evocative illumination for both Heaven and Earth (Earth being New York City); and sound designer Roger Tang makes rain, lightning, a wicked Mormon prairie diorama voice-over and an Angel with enough amps to blow both your mind and your fuse box.

“Perestroika” is in the final week of its run, and very much worth seeing. You will find pretty much all of America in it.