Listen to an audio version of this story and read the script
The Eau Claire Theater Department webpage lists upcoming productions.
Brown has a professional website that details his acting and directing.
Reading a plot summary of Angels in America may help viewers understand the production.
By Laura Szymanski
CJ 222 News Reporting & Writing student
Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
F. Reed Brown works with the cast and crew of Angels in America.
Angels really will be in Eau Claire this Christmas, but they’re not the ones you might expect.
Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has been working with the University Theater Department for two years. He is an assistant professor, choreographer, producer, actor and director. This semester he chose to direct Tony Kushner’s play called Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, ‘A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.’
Assistant Stage Manager Marissa April said that Brown chose this play for a reason. “It’s a very personal play for him,” Aprill said.
Before arriving in Eau Claire, Brown led a vagabond lifestyle. He lived in Vermont, Missouri, New York and Illinois. Of these states, he spent the majority of his time in New York and Missouri. Although he wouldn’t say he lived in Germany, a small farm outside of Munich functioned as a base while he acted with a traveling group called The Free Theater of Munich. While working with Heiner Müller, he became the first American to speak the words of Hamletmachine, Brown said.
When he lived in New York during the 1980s, Brown worked as a dancer in a touring musical, said Aaron Sluggs, an Eau Claire student and one of Brown’s actors.
“He was the only heterosexual male in the group,” Brown said.
Brown chose to spend his free time with the homosexual male dancers and became good friends with many of them. A year after leaving the tour, Brown was the only male dancer still alive. The others had contracted AIDs and died, Sluggs said.
Angels in America has two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. Brown and his cast will only perform Millennium Approaches because of time constraints. Together, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika have a run time of about seven hours.
Tony Kushner, the playwright of Angels in America, set the play in the mid-1980s in the middle of the American government’s refusal to confront the growing AIDs epidemic. In the play, as well as in real life, the individuals affected by AIDs could not get the treatment they needed. Angels in America follows nine characters as they battle sickness, religion and addiction while some of them learn to accept their sexualities.
However, this play may not be for everyone. The Eau Claire Theater Department gave the play a disclaimer on its website: “Contains mature subject matter; may not be appropriate for children under the age of 18.”
Brown does not think this play is controversial.
“It’s been around for 20 years, won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for Playwriting, been turned into an HBO mini-series with Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.” Brown said. “It is really part of the American canon by now.”
Brown isn’t looking for attention in directing this play. He didn’t choose to direct this play for the shock value, Aprill said, “That’s not why he set out to do this.”
The cast and crew know that the play’s subject matter could create potential misunderstandings. Angels in America opens around Christmastime and it’s about angels. The advertising could get tricky, Aprill said.
“We definitely have to stress that it’s a ‘Gay Fantasia on National Themes,’ Aprill said, “It’s not a Christmas pageant.”
Angels in America follows another play directed by a different assistant professor that touched on AIDs peripherally. Brown insisted that the Music and Theater Arts Department didn’t choose these productions as a means of furthering AIDs awareness.
The cast and production crew are aware that they may not get the audience reaction they were looking for. But, they remain optimistic and hope that the audience will also be able to find personal meaning in the play.
“We are definitely hoping for the best: that people will see this and be able to relate it to what’s happening today,” Aprill said, “People have to realize that this isn’t about being a homosexual. This is about change of the individual and a nation.”
Angels in America opened on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and performances run through Dec. 12. Performance times are available on the Eau Claire Theater Department “Current Productions” webpage.