Angels in America: Progress is slow - Into Albania

Angels in America: Progress is slow

“Angels in America” opens abtruptly, with two pairs of actors which suddenly appear on stage into the arms of the audience and begin to deliberate on serious subjects such as abandonment, betrayal, illness and death. Thusly begins the play, one of the most important theatre events of recent years in Tirana, on the stage of arTrubina.

Angels in America poster.

Director Arben Kumbaro has done justice to Tony Kushner’s original drama, one of the most celebrated plays worldwide, which interweaves the complex themes and events that took America by storm at the end of the 1980s. The alarming spread of the AIDS virus, homosexuality, Reagan politics, religion and faith, betrayal and morality are all juxtaposed against a background which explores the dichotomy between societal progress and regress. Though set in a very specific place and time, there is certainly a universal and timeless nature to the play which is revealed precisely through its success in such an unlikely country and more than 30 years later, Albania in 2019.


Due to its powerful complexity and timeliness, the play went on to win a slew of prestigious awards in America. Kumbaro has synthesized the original play, which is divided into two separate temporal plot lines entitled Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, into two hours. He has mainly focused on the second part of the original drama, with the title referring to the liberal reforms, associated with Gorbachev, that eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

From the opening act of the show, photo source:

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. gradually assumes its role as leader of the new world order. This is the situation we find in “Angels in America”: the problematic position of country that, while ready to export a faulty ideology abroad, is not prepared to manage the current challenges at home. The challenges were many but are perhaps best exemplified by the AIDS virus, which began its spread in the beginning of the 80s yet was not mentioned by Reagan until 1985.


In Albania, the audience becomes familiar, for the very first time, to the story of two New York couples, that of the Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt (Donald Shehu) and his wife Harper (Ina Gjonçi) and that between Louis Ironson (Laert Vasili) and his boyfriend Prior Walter (Genti Deçka). The fates of these couples are interlinked as Joe becomes involved with Louis, suddenly single after finding that his former partner has contracted AIDS. Harper and Prior’s fates are connected through their abandonment from their previous partners, their conditions exploring one of American society’s most widespread ills: loneliness.

Donald Shehu and Laert Vasili in their roles as Joe Pitt and Louis Ironson. Photo source:

Ina Gjonçi as Harper Pitt, photo source:

More characters are introduced at this point. That of Roy Cohn (Helidon Fino), the infamous American lawyer who, while engaged in various investigations against homosexuals in the American justice system, was himself a closeted homosexual. Another, the African-American nurse Belize (Indrit Çobani), the unlikely hero of the drama, and, finally, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Luiza Xhovani) who, having been electrocuted for espionage, haunts Cohn, a strong advocate for her execution. Albanian actors Fino and Xhuvani, two of the most renowned stage actors in the country, do a wonderful job of carrying the weight of perhaps the most important allegorical battle of the entire play, that between the self-appointed moralists who are morality’s worst adversaries and their consciences. However, Çobani with his outspoken, at times vulgar, but sincere and charming Belize is the one who wins the heart of the public.

Genti Deçka and Indrit Çobani in their roles as Prior and Belize. Photo source:

Luiza Xhuvani in her role as Ethel Rosenberg, photo source:

Helidon Fino and Donald Shehu in their respective roles. Photo source:

Kumbaro’s Challenge and Success

Perhaps the greatest merit goes to the director of the play, Kumbaro, who selected such a challenging work and succeeded in adapting it to the Albanian stage, all without losing the play’s original shock value. For the Albanian stage, the homosexuality, graphic language, nudity and sexuality of this play are fairly rare (restricted entrance for people of age 16+). Not many directors veer off the classic route of Shakespearean dramas and the like. As such, Kumbaro has disregarded the status quo and brought a drama that best fits with the times, one which will hopefully, illuminate the present.

Though not exactly similar to the America of the 80s, the Albania of the 2010’s can stand to be confronted with such significant issues, rarely debated in such an elevated manner. Kumbaro, loyal to Brecht’s paradigm that “art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it,” brings this play at the right time in Albania, inviting the public, as the original play once did with its American audience, to a much-needed pause for introspection.

By: IntoAlbania

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