Nearly two decades and countless broken hearts after angels first fluttered over the American theater, the lines remain blurred between fear and forgiveness, love and desire and justice and the law. No wonder that Tony Kushner's epic Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes endures as a work of uncommon power and poignancy. For evidence, look no further than Ion Theatre's production, on stage through Dec. 11 at the Lyceum space below Horton Plaza. Numbing in its sadness but as kinetic as a light switch being flipped on and off, this Angels in America is cerebrally and emotionally draining. You exit spent, but with the quiet inner exuberance that there is hope for humanity.
The two parts of Angels in America—Millennium Approaches and Perestroika—are being presented in repertory, though you can see them back-to-back (with a break) on Saturdays and Sundays. For all their length (Millennium runs 155 minutes, Perestroika 170, each with two 10-minute intermissions), the productions move at a steady pace. The many scenes are episodic, and the interweaving story lines (the dying devil, Roy Cohn; the also-dying but tender-hearted Prior and his conflicted lover, Louis; the closeted Mormon lawyer Joe and his drug-addled wife, Harper) are multi-layered but as fundamental as loving and wanting to be loved. AIDS and death are looming and unfathomable. Perhaps ironically, only when an actual angel descends upon the proceedings do Kushner's dialectic and revelatory soul-baring turn ponderous.
Ion's cast is formidable: Kyle Sorrell stands out as young Prior, whose fight for life and reluctance to be God's “prophet” we feel to the marrow. Jessica John Gercke, as Harper, is delusional but never desperate. Kevane La'Marr Coleman does well by the wise and witty Belize. Catalina Maynard manages multiple roles with aplomb, including Joe's (Jason Heil) Mormon mother and a reappearing rabbi. Jesse MacKinnon spits his lines as the spit-worthy Cohn.
Angels in America is a treatise on social, sexual and gender politics, but more so a bridge over the vast chasm between life and death—or is it just a footstep?
Angels in America runs through Dec. 11 at the Lyceum space, Downtown. $30-$50.
It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play: In true holiday tradition, Cygnet Theatre presents the timeless story of George Bailey, as recounted from Studio A of WCYG Radio. Previews start Nov. 30, opens Dec. 3 at Old Town Theatre. $29-$54. cygnettheatre.com
Little Women: Peter Clapham's play is an adaptation of the well-loved novel by Louisa May Alcott. Opens Dec. 2 at Patio Playhouse, Escondido. $7-$15. patioplayhouse.com
The Santaland Diaries: Joe Mantello reprises his adaptation of David Sedaris' essay about an elf working at Macy's during the holidays. Opens Dec. 3 at New Village Arts, Carlsbad. $20. newvillagearts.org
Some Lovers: The story of “The Gift of the Magi” gets a retooling thanks to a musical collaboration between Burt Bacharach and Steven (Spring Awakening) Sater. Now in previews, it opens Dec. 7 at Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park. $35 and up. oldglobe.org
The Who's Tommy: J. Company Youth Theatre stages the rock musical written by Pete Townshend and La Jolla Playhouse's Des McAnuff, an adaptation of The Who's landmark album. Opens Dec. 3 at David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre, Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center. $16. sdcjc.org
Lydia the Play: Set in El Paso, this play explores Texas-Mexico border relations while blending fantasy and reality. Through Dec. 3 at SDSU Experimental Theatre. $10-$16. theatre.sdsu.edu
The Storm: The UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance presents a drama by playwright Alexander Ostrovsky about a town in the throes of a storm. Through Dec. 3 at the Sheila & Hughes Potiker Theatre. $10-$20. theatre.sdsu.edu
The Diary of Anne Frank: Wendy Kesselman's adaptation of the story of a courageous girl in hiding during the horror of World War II. Through Dec. 4 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. $14-$16. onstageplayhouse.org
The Drowsy Chaperone: This show-within-a-show salute to the Jazz Age won the Tony for best musical in 2006. Through Dec. 4 at Coronado Playhouse. $20-$25. coronadoplayhouse.com
Ragnarok: The theater workshop Circle Circle Dot Dot stages a show co-written (with Katherine Harroff) by members of San Diego's live-action role-playing community. Through Dec. 10 at 10th Avenue Theater, Downtown. $10-$20. circle2dot2.com
The Great American Trailer Park Musical: The San Diego Rep's Sam Woodhouse directs this one-act spoof of trailer-park “culture” that also includes a rather predictable love triangle story. The prevailing everything-goes raucousness bogs down in a heapin' helpin' of double takes and double entendre. Through Dec. 11 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, Downtown. $33-$57. sdrep.org
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes: Ion Theatre stages both parts (Millennium Approaches and Perestroika) of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning work by Tony Kushner. Through Dec. 11 at the Lyceum Theatre, Downtown. $30- $50. iontheatre.com
Leato be Latina: Ethnic and sexual labeling collide with raucous hijinks in this play by Enrique Urueta. The goings run into trouble when a hand puppet gets too many lines and the play takes on the feel of an overlong Saturday Night Live sketch. Through Dec. 11 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $20-$33. diversionary.org
Late Nite Catechism: Audience members find themselves in a Catholic nun's class in this one-woman comedy that will celebrate its 20th-anniversary year in 2012. Fridays through Dec. 16 at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. $10-$30. welktheatersandiego.com
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown: The “Peanuts” characters come alive in the Broadway revival version of a musical by Clark Gesner based on Charles Schulz's gang. Through Dec. 17 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. $10- $25. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Life of a Sofa: A sofa is the consistent thread in 10 vignettes, each set during Christmas time. Through Dec. 18 at Broadway Theater, Vista. $17.50. broadwayvista.com
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: An Old Globe Theatre holiday tradition returns, directed by James Vasquez. Through Dec. 31 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $24-$57. oldglobe.org
Jesus Christ Superstar: The landmark rock opera written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, directed by Des McAnuff. Next stop after La Jolla: Broadway. Through Dec. 31 at La Jolla Playhouse. $58 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
Jingle Bell Rock: The Alley Cats usher in the holidays with a cappella classics and comedy. Through Dec. 31 at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. $48-$73. welktheatresandiego.com
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net