Part one of Tony Kushner's late-'80s epic Angels in America, titled Millennium Approaches, begins with a single death. A rabbi, played by a woman (at Intiman, the deft and shape-shifting Anne Allgood), introduces himself, saying he's come to bury a woman from the Bronx Home for Aged Hebrews. He admits he didn't know her, but knows what kind of person she was—a representative molecule from the wave of immigrant Jews who washed ashore in 20th-century America. The play, starting with that anonymous death, moves on to other personal catastrophes: Young ex-drag queen Prior loses his lover Louis when he reveals he has AIDS; Roy Cohn, the vicious, closeted, archconservative attorney who distinguished himself at the McCarthy hearings, discovers he has AIDS; the marriage of a young Mormon couple (Joe is a closeted Cohn protégé, and Harper is an agoraphobic Valium addict obsessed with the hole in the ozone layer) wrenches itself apart. It ends with an angel bursting through Prior's ceiling.

Part two of Angels in America, titled Perestroika, begins with catastrophe on a grander scale. Allgood enters as the world's oldest living Bolshevik, Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov (Kushner is a master of plainspoken dialogue but he's not above pyrotechnic puns), who rails against the grandchildren of the Soviet Revolution, calling them "pygmy children of a gigantic race," and asks whether the world is capable of progress when it's mired in indulgence and chaos. The scale keeps growing: The characters of part one begin to merge consciousnesses (there were hints of this before, but they could be chalked up to drug- or disease-induced delirium), the angel becomes a majestic and occasionally peevish visitor who holds forth about celestial sex and the cluelessness of humanity in whom "the virus of time began," and the audience takes a trip to a well-meaning but blundering heaven. (Costume designer Mark Mitchell has set the vivid fashion of eternity as a scarlet harlequin/patchwork quilt/hoopskirt affair.)

If part one of Angels in America is a fever dream, part two is a kaleidoscopic seizure: Millennium Approaches sets us up, Perestroika knocks us down. Intiman's ambitious summer production, directed by Andrew Russell, fulfills the play's two-part rhythm. Millennium Approaches, which opened August 12, felt well-intentioned but a little anemic. (To be fair, it has lots of fans, both among the critics and in theater lobbies and bars. I'm just not one of them.) But things get wrinkly and weird in Perestroika, where the painful but not unique problems of Millennium's characters take on elaborate dimensions—in this world and the next—and the text allows far more bandwidth for its director, actors, and designers to play around and explore the limits of their abilities.

Almost all of Intiman's artists take up the offer. Charles Leggett's Roy Cohn, who sustained a strong but one-note growl throughout part one, finds himself in the hospital, still vile and mean, but also at the mercy of his nurse—a black, take-no-shit ex–drag queen named Belize (Timothy McCuen Piggee, in one of Perestroika's most dynamic, wry, and wounded-but-hopeful performances). The impolite scenes between the two of them, as they loathe, insult, and then find a strange kind of respect for one another, are small masterpieces. Leggett and Piggee are practically from parallel dimensions: Cohn's crowning glory was putting Ethel Rosenberg in the electric chair, while Belize might've thrown a brick at a cop's head during Stonewall. But they plumb each other's souls through veils of mutual contempt, sometimes fencing artfully and sometimes ramming into each other like angry bulls. "You're a butterfingers spook faggot nurse... you have little reason to want to help me," Cohn snarls after Belize, against his better judgment, gives him some insider advice. "Consider it solidarity. One faggot to another," Belize says, snapping his fingers gloriously at the powerful closet case. "Any more of your lip, boy, and you'll be flipping Big Macs in East Hell before tomorrow night!" Cohn bellows—and then promptly acts on Belize's tip. When Leggett and Piggee are at the top of their games, the effect is time-stopping.

Alex Highsmith's Harper also ripens into a more powerful creature. Rather than the forlorn Mormon wife of part one, her ironic edge sharpens, her sorrow about her distant husband (played by the blond-haired, corn-fed, all-American looking Ty Boice) turns to righteous anger, and she begins to take ownership of her visions—an ownership that results in one of the most hauntingly beautiful passages in Angels, describing souls of the dead rising from earth to join hands in a protective net across the ozone hole.

Likewise, the relationship between tormented Prior (Adam Standley) and hyper-intellectual Louis (Quinn Franzen) deepens as Prior's conversations with the angel—first frightening, then irritating, then empowering—imbue him with bitter, transcendent wisdom. "You cry, but you endanger nothing in yourself," he tells a penitent Louis who's come looking for forgiveness, and says, "Fuck you, I'm a prophet," when Louis asks how Prior knows he's been sleeping with Joe. Even Marya Sea Kaminski as The Angel gets a chance to stretch, bobbing through the air, alternately commanding and comically exasperated about Prior's reluctance to begin "the great work" she has planned for him.

The fantasia unfolds like a hallucination on Jennifer Zeyl's stark, courthouse-pillars set—as Kushner recommends in the script, minimal scenery is a better conduit for the play's lightning strikes of magic. Clever help comes from lighting designer Robert Aguilar who, in one sequence, electrifies the stage with LED lighting zapping in the grout between the stage's big tiles.

Often, Millennium Approaches is what people think of when they think about Angels in America—it's easier to stage (and, in these parts, is staged more often), and easier for actors and audiences to get inside. But Perestroika is where the ground, cultivated in part one, begins to sprout bizarre and wonderful flowers. Intiman's production lets them bloom. recommended