Summary: Angels In America was Written At a Time When Kushner was Discovering Himself in America. His Play is Worth Your Time Too, Specially When Made and Performed With Such Brilliance
There is much multiplicity in Angels in America, all of which may be difficult to decipher in the worthiness and wordiness of Tony Kushner‘s Pulitzer winning script. There are political, theological and cultural allusions that are expressed in lengthy dialogs, sermons, monologues etc that you may find hard to allocate to the purpose of the play. What is simpler to understand is the questions about morality, musings about death, isolation and betrayal, problems of identity crisis and the universal feelings of love, compassion, empathy, responsibility, unity and impermanence. You constantly witness characters questioning their beliefs, breaking down, losing their sanity, finding a revelation and then living with hope that they find their true place and purpose in the ever-evolving life.
Prior Walter is an openly gay man who’s the first in the film to be inflicted by the disease. His Jewish gay partner Louis, who already has a track record of abnegating responsibility, slowly distances himself from his lover despite loving him dearly. Prior accuses Louis of not believing truly in what he preaches, and finds support in his best friend and ex-lover Belize and the hospital nurse. He also begins to experience startlingly realistic hallucinations where he encounters unknown people, ghosts and angels, who proclaim that he is a Prophet who can cure the world’s miseries if he wishes. Another man Joe, a Conservative Mormon lawyer begins discovering his second skin when he realizes that his coldness towards his wife stems from his repressed homosexuality, which he had always ignored as it went against his religious beliefs. His wife Harper, as a result of emotional isolation and fears, lives in comfort and friendship of imaginary friends who, akin Prior’s hallucinatory encounters, give answers to the questions that remain vague or unanswered in reality. Joe’s mother,aptly referred to as ‘Mother Pitt’ is an ordinary Mormon wife who, although is upset by her son’s revelation, finds that her womanhood innately shows the qualities of empathy and compassion to be more flexible towards changes around her.
Joe’s mentor is Roy Cohn, the famous Conservative Jewish lawyer who strongly shows anti-communist and racist attitudes and ignores moral and ethical issues in doing what he believes is right for US. The contemptible, churlish, unconscionable brute is another victim of AIDS, which he contracted through sexual relations with men; yet Roy does not believe he is a homosexual, terming the tag only for those ‘whom nobody knows and who know nobody’. His confrontation with his past sins materializes in the form of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, a Jewish woman whom Roy had convicted using undue power for espionage.
Distance, death, desertion and isolation are recurring themes in Angels in America. The opening monologue of the rabbi itself is an example of distance: we see Louis and Prior sitting together a few rows behind the other members of their family as the rabbi is sermonizing at Louis’ grandmother’s funeral about the brave woman’s voyage to America. The two gay men are separated from the rest for their homosexuality while the Rabbi expresses his conservative view on religion. There is a haunting image about death some scenes later when Louis broaches the subject of desertion to the rabbi: after the conversation, we see an extremely long shot/view of the almost unending graveyard, with numberless black gravestones. Mike Nichols, the TV movie‘s director makes his camera float into and away from the subjects, and poetically captures the magic realism of the story. The colors in the film also capture the character’s emotion or essence, and sometimes you may see the whole image going startlingly red or brilliantly blue or find a major color dominating the background, like a dull yellow background around Mother Pitt when she arrives home and gets a call about her daughter–law or shades of green on Mother Pitt and Prior during their conversation at the hospital. There is, in short, a lot we get to see, and I haven’t come to burning ghosts of Prior’s ancestors and his shared dream with Harper yet! Despite the complexities and the multitudinous implications in the play, you are always connected to the humanness of the characters and excellent. Highly engaging performances.
Angels in America runs for six hours, but I have no problem seeing it again. There are things I know I’ve missed, meanings still not fully understood, questions still running in my mind, characters whose brilliance I haven’t fully relished. It’s really a play written which seems to have be written when the playwright himself was exploring USA, and all his ideas explode into Angels in America. It’s well worth your time.
- Review of Mike Nichols’ 1983 film Silkwood, Starring 3-time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep (sashankkini.wordpress.com)