Angels in Albuquerque
The new face of Albuquerque Little Theatre
In the final scene of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, an angel falls from the sky with a message for a dying man. The message is not of death, but of a path he must follow, a path to a new life. For the Albuquerque Little Theatre, the angel is the new path.
When ALT announced Angels in America—Part One: Millennium Approaches would lead its 2006-2007 season, the notice included a disclaimer: “This play deals with serious themes and contains adult language.” For those familiar with Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the warning was as obvious as text on a coffee cup informing the drinker the contents are hot. Angels addresses homosexuality, prescription drug abuse, politics, religion and AIDS before intermission.
But there is history behind that disclaimer. For ALT, leading its 76th season with a controversial play was the equivalent of jumping into frigid waters with a life preserver that may, or may not, float. ALT is one of Albuquerque’s longest running theaters and has been known for its family-friendly, PG-rated content. With the dismissal of ALT’s popular Executive Director Larry Parker and Family Theater Series Director Jonathan Dunski earlier this year, it became apparent that things were changing at ALT. The executive director position was split into two positions, Erin Moots is now the managing director and Peter Shea Kierst is artistic director.
“The bottom line for all the changes was we were not selling enough tickets,” Moots says. She says a number of cuts were made to the budget in order to make sure the theater could survive on money made show to show. Moots says the need to fill seats and appeal to a different crowd is what prompted them to add Angels in America to their season, along with Romeo and Juliet and Tuesdays with Morrie, but they will still keep their family series.
“[Angels] is outside of what ALT normally does,” she says, “We’re trying to still maintain the base of ALT. Our patrons have been coming for 30 years. … We’re trying to figure out a good balance.”
Moots says the reaction to Angels in America has been mixed but nothing more than the theater anticipated. The disclaimer, she says, has helped let those base patrons know that Angels isn’t for everyone. “Nobody has come back and asked for a refund,” she says. “When I get the opportunity to talk to the patrons [who don’t like the show], they love the production values, they love the acting, they just do not like the subject matter, and they do not want to hear cussing on stage, and I respect that,” she says.
Tony Kushner’s Angels in America has been hailed by many as the greatest American play of our time. The honor of “greatest play of our time” is certainly up for debate, but the fact that Angels is a well-crafted piece of theatrical beauty is not. ALT does a fine job with this fine play. If the actors knew that the audience might not be receptive to the language and content of the play, they didn’t let it show in their performance. If anything, it became apparent to the audience that every actor on stage was deeply invested in Angels.
Depending on how audiences react to part one of Angels in America, Moots says they hope to stage part two, Perestroika, next season. It also depends on how well ALT can stick to their new budget and how many seats are filled each night.
“I’m confident we’re going to be here for another 77 seasons,” she says. “We’ve got our hands around the beast … I think we can survive.”