Soulpepper | Angels In America

Michelle Monteith talks about the vision behind her role in Tony Kushner's divine drama

Michelle Monteith and Troy Adams in Angels in America. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The theatre angels have blessed Michelle Monteith with the gift of great roles over the course of her career, but this last year has been especially good for the Toronto-based actress. After a critically acclaimed turn as a disturbed young girl in Hannah Moscovitch's Little One (Theatre Crisis), and a Dora Award-winning performance as the Pupil in Eugène Ionesco's The Lesson (Modern Times Stage Company), Monteith is ready to tackle another ambitious part in Soulpepper's production of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America, now in previews at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Directed by Albert Schultz, the epic production is divided into two parts—Millennium Approaches and Perestroika—with a total running time of approximately six hours. Featuring a powerhouse cast, including Damien Atkins, Diego Matamoros, Nancy Palk, Gregory Prest, and Troy Adams, the story follows the lives of seven individuals in New York City during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. While the action centres around Prior Walter (Atkins), a gay man afflicted with AIDS, each of the main characters must face their own personal battles.

Monteith plays the part of Mormon housewife Harper Pit, married to Joe Pit (Mike Ross), a closeted homosexual struggling with his identity.

"She's described as having a mild valium addiction and she's mildly agoraphobic so she sticks pretty close to home,” says Monteith. "She has a lot of anxiety about the outside world." Throughout the play her character experiences a series of valium-induced hallucinations that reveal something about her situation. "I discovered that every time she has one of these valium hallucinations she learns something new about her life. And then when she comes out of the hallucination she acts on that thing she learns. She is actually very smart and intuitive and knows exactly what is going on. She's not deluded at all."

In rehearsal Schultz reminded Monteith and Ross that Harper and Joe Pit are equals: "He said to Mike, she's one of the smartest people you know and you value her opinion,” Monteith explains." "And that immediately put us in a different place. I think it makes the relationship much more rich and real."

Part of Monteith's challenge has been finding a way to balance her character's struggles with the humour in the play. "As an actor you want to be true to the moment and the moments in their lives are so serious, and it's so awful what's happening to her, but how she copes is through humour. I mean, that's how we cope in life, right?" she says. "We don't really want to live in that awful place for long, so it's just figuring out the dance of that, what her emotional state is in any give scene in a play that is so vast. It's figuring out what your note is, like if you're thinking about it in terms of a symphony."

Angels in America Parts I and II are meant to be experienced chronologically. And obviously Monteith hopes people will make the effort to see both. “The journey isn’t complete if you just see one,” she says. “I can't wait for that feeling of being in the room with the audience for the whole journey, to feel the completion of it. There's a feeling of togetherness, in spite of all the pain that we all experience, whether it's trouble in a relationship, problems with family, or sicknessall of the issues the play encompasses. That's what I feel at the end of the play, ultimately, that we are all human together and that's an amazing feeling. We feel less alone.”

Catch Michelle Monteith in Soulpepper's Angels in America Parts I and II, on stage now until September 14 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Fri, 2013-07-19 - Sat, 2013-09-28


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