Angels in America is a two-part play by American playwright Tony Kushner. The play is a complex, often metaphorical, and at times symbolic examination of AIDS and homosexuality in America in the 1980s. Prior Walter, a gay man afflicted with AIDS, experiences heavenly signs, and learns that he is to become the prophet of a new age in America.
While looking for Thomas, Saanvi and Michaela are talking about the “Gray Woman” when Bethany makes the association to the Angel of Waters statue at the top of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. “She has wings and water at her feet. And she’s a big part of ‘Angels in America,’ Leo’s favorite play” (104.22).
The Angel of Waters statue of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park is seen in several scenes of HBO’s film adaptation. The very opening shot has the winged statue move her head and eyes, but not speaking. Similarly, in episode 104, the first appearance of the “Gray Woman” moving through the halls of the hospital but not saying anything (104.2).
Just as the voice of an angel is heard by the main character in “Angels in America”, Michaela, Ben, and other 828ers are hearing voices. Just as Prior does not know if what he is experiencing is caused by an emotional breakdown or if it is all real, the 828ers undergo a similar angst. Although in the play, the angel makes a dramatic entrance at the end of part one, announcing that “the Great Work” has begun, we have yet to receive such an announcement—although Michaela has asked the Angel of Waters, “What do you want?” (104.26)
“Stop moving!” is the angel’s basic message for mankind in “Angels in America.” Might there also be a connection to Michaela’s first calling when she hears the voice on the bus, “Slower! Slower! Slower!” and the bus driver coming to a full stop when the boy runs out in front of it? (101.11)
Three interlocking stories in “Angels in America”, involve characters fighting the unknown and what they can’t control while discovering they’re not the person they thought they are,1 In Manifest we have a series of interlocking characters also dealing with the unknown and discovering who they are in the process. As another reviewer notes, “Kushner is masterful at unmasking the strange contradictions that organize American life. Freedom and powerlessness (we hold these truths to be self-evident: money talks). Love and betrayal (we give our hearts away only to learn we are truly alone). Despair and hope (we die painful, horrible deaths but hope angels will greet us in heaven).”2
Photo at top of page: Randy Harrison as Prior, left, Caldwell Tidicue as Belize, Benjamin T. Ismail as Louis and Carmen Roman as Hannah Pitt in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s “Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika.” (Kevin Berne / Berkeley Repertory Theatre)Endnotes:
- c.f. ‘Angels in America’ review: Zachary Quinto flies high in perfect revival of Tony Kushner play by Doe Dziemianowica (October 29, 2010)
- Soaring Angels: Angels in America on HBO by Dan Odenwald (December 3, 2003)
|Angels in America: Millennium Approaches|
|Written by||Tony Kushner|
|Date premiered||May 1991|
|Place premiered||Eureka Theatre Company|
San Francisco, California
|Setting||New York City, Salt Lake City and elsewhere, 1985–1986|
|Angels in America: Perestroika|
|Written by||Tony Kushner|
|Date premiered||November 8, 1992|
|Place premiered||Mark Taper Forum|
Los Angeles, California
|Setting||New York City and elsewhere, 1986–1990|
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is a two-part play by American playwright Tony Kushner. The work won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. Part one of the play premiered in 1991 and its Broadway opening was in 1993.
The play is a complex, often metaphorical, and at times symbolic examination of AIDS and homosexuality in America in the 1980s. Certain major and minor characters are supernatural beings (angels) or deceased persons (ghosts). The play contains multiple roles for several of the actors. Initially and primarily focusing on a gay couple in Manhattan, the play also has several other storylines, some of which occasionally intersect.
The two parts of the play are separately presentable and entitled Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, respectively. The play has been adapted into an HBO 2003 miniseries of the same title. The Seattle Times listed the series as among "Best of the filmed AIDS portrayals" on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of AIDS.