Two or three years ago, The Chancellor showed me the HBO film Angels in America, and I was intrigued, saddened, and deeply moved all at once. And then PBS aired a special of the UK’s National Theatre performances, which included a scene of Dominic Cooper and Andrew Scott (Moriarty!) performing a scene from the play.
The special made me really curious about all the contemporary American and British plays out there–we’ve all read Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill and Tom Stoppard, so I thought it time to update my theater knowledge. So, I borrowed a lot of plays from the library. Angels in America is my first foray into contemporary theater.
It all starts with a discovery. Longterm couple Louis and Prior are at Louis’s grandmother’s funeral when Prior admits that he has lesions. It means an HIV-positive diagnosis and the subsequent slide into a slow, agonizing death from AIDS.
Louis is devastated, but his self-preservation kicks in, and he abandons Prior. Meanwhile, Mormon couple Harper and Joe are struggling. Joe’s been offered a job that would transfer him from NYC to Washington, D.C. He’s also a closeted gay man, which Harper seems to suspect. She is addicted to painkillers, and trying to maintain a sense of sanity, even as their marriage crumbles around her. Meanwhile, Joe’s boss, Roy Cohn, is deep in denial about his own sexuality and sexual practices. Joe’s mother Hannah decides to come to New York to save Joe and Harper. And an angel visits Prior one dark, lonely night.
Kushner really meshes the surreal with the all-too-real in this unforgettable play. It’s a blend of dark, AIDS comedy with glorious camp. I mean:
I would love to see it performed sometime, because it’s really spectacular. I will say, though, if you’ve never seen the HBO film, you are missing out. It’s quite interesting.