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Spotlight: "Angels in America Part 2" Makes Rare Appearance in Orlando

Luana Fugulin and Edwin Perez perform in Valencia College Arts and Entertainment Theater's Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, written by Tony Kushner and directed by Jeremy Seghers.
Kabelphoto/Full Sail University
Luana Fugulin and Edwin Perez perform in Valencia College Arts and Entertainment Theater's Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, written by Tony Kushner and directed by Jeremy Seghers.

The play “Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika” opens at Valencia College East later this month, and it’s the first time in more than ten years that it’s been performed in Central Florida. While it was written in the 1990s and is centered around the AIDS epidemic, director Jeremy Seghers explains it’s still relevant today.

Jeremy Seghers:
“Angels in America” - I mean, you could literally say I've wanted to do it since I read it when I was 16 and we read it in high school. But really the kind of immediate urge to do it began with the 2016 election of Trump, simply because of the direct lineage to this play, the direct connection to this play. Trump's mentor was the lawyer Roy Cohn, who was Joe McCarthy's right-hand man during the McCarthy hearings [in the 1950s]. And he mentored Trump. Without Roy Cohn, there would be no Donald Trump. Everything Trump learned he learned from Roy Cohn and Roy Cohn happens to be a character in the play. And he happened to have passed away from AIDS complications in the late ‘80s.

Nicole Darden Creston:
I saw the Roy Cohn character, and the way that at least [Angels in America] Part 2 kind of revolves around him. What do you think about that, related to the current circumstances that we are in?

Jeremy Seghers:
So for me, I think it's a very easy kind of trap to fall into to think that this play is 30-plus years old so it's from a different era. “How can we possibly relate to it? How is it relevant to us?” And by drawing that connection to Roy Cohn, and really drawing the connection to not only our present political climate, but also our current state of science versus religion, the debates between science and religion with the pandemic, that sort of heightened things a little more, made our perspective a little sharper when we were starting to approach it. The characters the figures that were relevant to the AIDS epidemic also became more relevant. During the pandemic, we had Dr. Fauci, who was very involved with AIDS research in the 80s. And I think it's just important to remind people that 30 years ago is not that long ago. So to me, I don't really treat it as a period piece. I don't really treat it as something that happened in the past. I treat it as something that could happen today.

Nicole Darden Creston:
There are clearly plenty of parallels there. What has been the thing that has surprised you the most in directing this? What have you learned?

Jeremy Seghers:
The brilliance of Tony Kushner, the playwright. I think the thing that surprised me the most really is the many layers of the play. People think, Oh, it's a play about AIDS. And that's true to an extent, but it's about so much more. It's about relationships. It's about the unexpected connections we make with people. And it's about that sort of serendipity that comes about and how relationships, you know, fall apart. It's about people coming to terms with their truth, and with themselves, their nature, who they are. So it's about so much more than HIV and AIDS, and the AIDS epidemic. It's even more than about politics. Really, it's about these sort of timeless themes and issues that we deal with as people every day. So I think it's universal in that respect. And that's surprising - people don't think about, especially if they've never seen it. They don't think about the universality of it.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Focusing in on that a little bit, what do you say to people who say, “Oh, part two? Well, I haven't seen [Angels in America] Part One. So I'm not familiar with how the piece goes.” What do you say to them about just having a part where they can or cannot feel like they can jump in?

Jeremy Seghers:
So to me things we're just getting started in Part One. We were just learning who these characters are. And then it ends! The angel doesn't appear until the last 30 seconds of Part One. So most of Part One is in anticipation for the angel’s arrival, and then she arrives, and then the play ends. So I would say audiences haven’t missed as much as they may think they have, we're just beginning to see characters crack open a little bit. And Part Two is really more about the deconstruction of the relationships that have been established in Part One. And the journey that many of these characters go on really just starts with Part One. You really with Part Two, you get down to the meat and potatoes of it…which for me as a vegetarian is just potatoes, but it's still very, very filling and very fulfilling. (laughter)

Nicole Darden Creston:
You mentioned to me that you have everything from fight choreography rehearsals to intimacy rehearsals. Talk to me a little bit about how you manage the intimacy rehearsals to make sure that everyone is comfortable.

Jeremy Seghers:
We have a wonderful intimacy coordinator, Rebecca Lane, who has been studying intimacy. And she comes into it with the approach of establishing boundaries, first with the actors, not only emotionally but physically, feeling safe that at any moment. They can say, “I'm not okay with this.” ‘Button’ is the word we like to use to pause, if things get a little too intense or for boundaries being crossed. And those boundaries can change from day to day, they're not always the same, although when we're in performances, they will be established.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What would you like audience members to take away with them after they see this show?

Jeremy Seghers:
We have an opportunity to change a lot of hearts and minds that may be coming into it not completely open. I hope people do come to the show, who maybe have some prejudices unexamined about the LGBTQ community, about people who have AIDS, about ideas of race, gender, and that we bring them to the surface first and foremost, and that we challenge them, and that maybe they go home and think about them. You know, we think we've gotten to a point as a society that we've progressed so far, and then we're reminded - very harshly sometimes - that we haven't gotten that far. “Perestroika” is so much about progress.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined WMFE in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy.
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