Amateur ’Angels’ alight near the Castro

by Richard Dodds

Bay Area Reporter

Friday January 28, 2011

The idea was to pay tribute to the 20th anniversary of Angels in America with a new production in the Castro, just a few blocks from the theater where Tony Kushner's transformative play was first staged in 1991. The production is still happening, and it will still be just a few blocks from the old Eureka Theatre where Angels debuted, but it will not be in the Castro. Instead, the Rainbow Room at the LGBT Community Center will host the Theatre Shark production opening in April.

"Our original dream was to use one of the many empty businesses in the Castro, but the process became very cumbersome even with [Supervisor] Bevan Dufty working with us," said John Steen, a Theatre Shark founder and a featured actor in the upcoming Angels. In addition to finding reluctance from landlords who feared losing a longer lease should a space be temporarily committed to the theater production, Steen said the permits and hearing processes to get an intended-use waiver was beyond the small theater company's grasp.

What the Theatre Shark troupe knew going in was that it didn't want to restage the play in a traditional theater space, and the center's Rainbow Room will still allow for a non-traditional approach to the material. "There's basically three stories going on in the play, and we'll use the whole room to stage the different parts of the story," Steen said.

There are plans for ancillary events, including a photo project planned with Magnet to encourage people to get tested for HIV, and a behind-the-scenes documentary directed by Marc Smolowitz. In recent days, however, some uncertainty has arisen on whether the play-licensing firm that controls Angels will permit backstage scenes from the new production to be filmed.

Here matters become a bit vague, though according to Steen, Theatre Shark secured amateur rights to Angels in America last summer, and royalties have been paid. In the meantime, a major professional venue in the East Bay decided to present Angels in 2012, and the licensing agent apparently forgot it had given Theatre Shark permission for a 2011 SF run. If this is indeed the scenario, the lower the profile the better for the earlier amateur production, as the licensing firm protects the professionals paying higher royalties, and documentary film could complicated that. It is also why Theatre Shark can present only the first part of Angels in America.

Whatever the fate of the documentary, Millennium Approaches, the first part of the epic play, will run April 20-May 14 in the Rainbow Room. Laura Lundy-Paine, the artistic director of Alameda's Virago Theatre, will be staging the Theatre Shark production. Cast members include Adam Simpson, Dara Yazdani, Liz Ryan, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, T.J. Lee, Donald Currie, Cary Cronholm, and John Steen.

The Theatre Shark company was founded following the death of Jeffrey Hartgraves in 2008 as a way to memorialize the playwright-director's work.

The 12 founding members helped put on Shades of Gray, a previously unproduced Hartgraves play inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray. Five of the original team have regrouped for the Angels project: the aforementioned actors Ryan, Lee, Steen, and Currie, and artistic director Lara Rempel.

Tickets for the Theatre Shark production will go on sale in March, and will be available at

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