‘Angels in America,’ Still Stretching Toward the Heavens

But the climate of fear and anger Mr. Kushner summoned feels, if anything, even more pervasive today than it did when “Angels” first opened. It makes sense that Ms. Elliott, the much-laureled director of “War Horse” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” has transformed the New York City of three decades ago into a land of endless night. In this “Angels,” time feels frozen at 3 a.m.

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Denise Gough as Harper, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Mr. Lies in Marianne Elliott’s “Angels in America.”

Credit
Helen Maybanks

The principal sources of illumination here, overseen by Paule Constable, are cold fluorescent bars that outline the urban spaces in which the play takes place (along with the occasional pillar of fire). The set designer, Ian MacNeil, takes full advantage of the moving parts afforded by the National’s Lyttelton stage.

Apartments, hospital rooms, public spaces and offices slide in and out of view, vertically and horizontally, and sometimes bleed into one another. Nothing is fixed. No center holds.

In the practical terms of theater, this isn’t always a good thing. “Angels” is, above all, a portrait of the moral weight of human connections, as they are forged, extended and unraveled by friends, lovers and strangers. And on the vast stage here, performers can appear lost in space in ways that surely go beyond the creative team’s intentions, as emotional focus slides to the periphery.

Such blurriness can partly be ascribed to an imbalance within the cast. Mr. Garfield, perhaps best known as one of the many Spider-Men to have crawled across multiplex screens, is splendid in the central role of the ailing Prior Walter, who is abandoned by his lover and visited by a bona fide, if shopworn, angel, bearing tidings she wants him to spread…

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