Tony Kushner’s Latest Epic – And Recalling His First

Earlier this week, we began rehearsals for Tony Kushner’s thrilling new masterwork, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures. I want to share with you my own opening remarks to the company of amazing actors, designers, staff and supporters, and our always extraordinary partner in art, director John Vreeke. But first let’s hear from John, and productions designers Misha Kachman and Ivania Stack. Here’s a video peek from our first day of rehearsals:

Inside_Look To see the video, click here.

Opening Welcome Remarks, from the Artistic Director:

As concerned as we are with the clock [because we want to make sure we get to the end of this play before 11:00 and it’s 6:15 now and we’ve got presentations and breaks to account for, so I’ll talk in a hurry]
It’s important that we lead with our love; how it leads to why we’re here
That we open with passion in presenting our purpose:

Which is to bring a great thing-—this thing called I-HO—-to life.
To do justice to a great mind, a brilliant voice, and bring this fabulously fractious family into vivid relief as they say try to goodbye to each other
while trying to save each other
from the shattering loneliness of losing; losing the battle, losing memory…
while striving to renew their union (to each other).
Some quick context about why we’re here — about what this play is doing here of all places?

This first question:
Do you remember where you were when you first encountered Angels in America?
You were younger, I’ll bet.
So was Tony Kushner. In Angels, Tony wrote, as a young gay renegade, brilliant and better than anyone.

What was your first impression of Angels?
[That’s the prompt for our student theater-goers—To respond to the blast of reading Angels for the first time.  Or alternately, talk about reading Homebody/Kabul, so near and dear to Theater J-goers’ hearts.]

ANGELS3

Reading Angels the first time, for me, was like experiencing a sock to the solar plexus — I’ll never forget–riding the M-5 on the edge of Harlem and Central Park North, reading Part I in American Theatre Magazine (on my way to my first shrink), 1991…

ROY: “It’s a great time to be in Washington, Joe.

JOE: Roy, it’s incredibly exciting!

ROY: And it would mean something to me; you understand?

JOE: “I can’t say how much I appreciate this, Roy. I’m sort of… Well, stunned, I mean. Thanks, Roy. But I have to give it some thought. I have to ask my wife.

ROY: …Your wife. Of course—

JOE: But I really appreciate—

ROY: Of course. Talk to your wife.

Kushner means many things to so many of us. In that one selection, He slayed me, and I was bleeding. Playwright Donald Margulies told me that same year: “Tony’s pushed back the goal posts. For all of us.” Tony rewrote the theatrical rule book, raised the bar; heightened the discourse, to reach the stratosphere.

Tony K revitalized and then more profoundly revolutionized the American stage and then the world stage with his epic. And nothing more need be said here tonight about the legacy of that diptych, or of the untold ways Tony’s built up and out from the foundations of that masterwork to continue to astound, renew, and evolve. That’s our theme here: The Revolutionary who became evolutionary. And the life-long adherents he made of those he’d once slayed in the process.

What I’m saying is… Tony became even greater. Improbably. He grew.

This theater first met Tony Kushner in 1999 when we presented the very first reading of Caroline: Or Change. And we co-produced the first DC production of Homebody/Kabul (directed so brilliantly by Mr. Vreeke) in 2003.

Jennifer Mendenhall and Rick Foucheux in the Woolly Mammoth/Theater J co-pro of HOMEBODY/KABUL (photograph by Stan Barouh)

Jennifer Mendenhall and Rick Foucheux in the Woolly Mammoth/Theater J co-pro of HOMEBODY/KABUL (photograph by Stan Barouh)

Making friends with the middle aged Kushner is quite unlike encountering the high-flying wizard. The Tony we’re befriending here is the same genius writer, still shimmering, but weighed down by realism; of life and relationships and the realization of everyone’s limits; even his own.

GWU President Steven Knapp, Tony Kushner and Ari Roth

GWU President Steven Knapp, Tony Kushner and Ari Roth

Tony was once full of ridicule for the theater so many of us loved — the theater of Miller — it represented something to overthrow — even as it resonated so personally for Tony… (his mom, after all, played Linda Loman in a Lake Charles production of Death of a Salesman when Tony was 6). I took the snub personally.

Now Tony’s written this homage… Here’s TK (in Jspace):

“When I was a much younger writer, I was somewhat critical of O’Neill and of Miller. I was always a fan of Williams because he was gay and he was southern and I found him and the lyrics of his writing gloomy, powerfully. But with Arthur and with O’Neill, both writers that I now revere, when I was 18 or19 I was really scornful. Probably some sort of Oedipal thing going on. But they seemed corny to me and individualist and I was very much looking at everything through the eyes of Brechtian theory and not impressed….

As I started to write plays, I reread “Salesman” and “View from a Bridge” and there’s a magnificent sort of erratic construction in these works. They serve as the greatest structure of dramatic events this country’s ever produced. And I think in terms of social advocacy, Arthur is important as a model in two ways. In one way because he doesn’t write polemic, he writes drama, which is really different. And the plays are not plays that present problems and provide answers for those problems, they’re deeper and more complicated and more tortured than that. That’s when they’re at their best. And as it progresses, they become more and more what we would call personal, and less and less obviously political.

At the same time Arthur used his immense fame for social good. He was a brave, tireless fighter, a scrupulous and courageous public intellectual, an advocate. Those are important things. I think he remains the luminous example of a writer as a citizen. It’s always good to have role models and certainly for me, when faced with a choice between doing something political and doing something that I really enjoy doing, I say to myself, “What would Arthur Miller do?” I knew him a little bit but not well, but the Arthur in my head is a very interesting and valuable figure.

In 2011, Tony went on tour to unveil the Library of America multi-volume series of the collected plays of Arthur Miller, which Tony had taken edited, taking over from the late Mel Gussow. Tony was paying back to his elders.41+w7jrFeOL._AA160_

He’s writing a musical about O’Neill (with Jeanine Tesori). He’s paying back.

And he’s been saying goodbye to his father, whom he buried during the course of refining this play. It’s so unbelievably personal. To all of us now.

So many of these relationships are elemental in nature — archetypal; even as others are downright improbable or, even inappropriate. If you’ve ever been in love with someone you shouldn’t be, for any number of reasons, the affair between Pill and Eli(made electric and awful by the involvement of money) is something you’ll recognize…
If you’ve ever been exasperated by a parent whom you love, whom you have to leave… you’ll see yourself.

And you’ll see iconic figures aplenty here. The first great American family drama, Awake and Sing (running up at Olney through the weekend) features a 70-something would-be revolutionary who, so despairing for the state of revolutionary politics in America, that he contemplates, suicides, tries it, and succeeds.

Gus Marcantonio is Jacob–exactly 70 years later…

A revolutionist battles evolutionary theory and is left to wonder: who’s the biggest loser?

As our actor Tom Wiggin shared yesterday in a pre-rehearsal get-together, “Gus is choosing between The Struggle and His Children.”

But what happens, I countered, when the children are disappointments, and don’t march as comrades in the same direction, or with the same directiveness?

Communion — fellowship — solidarity — This is the wellspring running deep through this work.

So may it bind us and inform us, and carry us through—to a revitalized, shimmering new place.

45 thoughts on “Tony Kushner’s Latest Epic – And Recalling His First

  1. Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” presents the concept of identity so center stage (no pun intended), particularly that of sexual orientation. As someone who loves dissecting identity and answering the all important question of “Who am I?” it was great to dive into this piece of theater with these same ideals so clearly presented. While I have seen films with gay culture and the HIV/AIDs epidemic of the US in the 1980s at its root (e.g., The Normal Heart), it was refreshing to read a script for a play with the same cultural significance and impact. It was interesting how the stage directions of the play and the very physical layout of the words on the script seemed to so eloquently develop parallels between the two (initial) couples of the play, one homosexual relationship and one heterosexual. For instance, both couples face problems from the very beginning of the play and questions of whether or not they should stay together are true for both of the pairs, regardless of sexual orientation.

    Furthermore, it seems that the status of HIV positive becomes its own identity that further parsed the community at that time. In all the research I have done on the AIDs epidemic in the gay community (which is limited to movies and a few articles here and there), I felt like many men who were negative of HIV were inclined to help and support their partners or otherwise who became afflicted with the virus. I was almost shocked to find that Louis leaves Prior after he discovers his diagnosis. This was probably a part of the reality though; not everyone could have had the courage to stay and care for their partner who had a virus about which little was known at the time.

    Identity was obviously a large part of the play, but equally important was the denial of one’s own identity, most notably on the part of Roy. We see Roy’s fear of being labeled as a homosexual come out so forcefully in a monologue in which he says he has fun but is not a homosexual. In his mind, being gay is considered to be “less than” and weak. It made me sad to read this because I do not see Roy as an insensitive bigot in this instance; quite contrarily, I see him as a frightened man who does not want to let go of the privilege that heterosexuality offers him, even as he is diagnosed with HIV, which he presumably contracted from his homosexual relations. Living one’s own truth is so important to leading a happy life, and “Angels in America,” among other things, showcases this so wonderfully.

    • TJ, I also thought a lot about the set-up of the two couples at the beginning of the play that then come full circle at the conclusion. Your analysis of identity, however, really makes sense to me, especially your thoughts on being HIV positive as an identity in itself. This diagnosis, if anything, seems to become a more defining characteristic of the characters than being homosexual. Roy, specifically, is capable of rejecting his homosexuality, but his diagnosis is an identity he is given that he cannot reject or refute. Is this, perhaps, why HIV positive becomes more powerful than being homosexual in its ability to define the characters? Is that only because HIV positive is a scientific diagnosis and homosexuality, especially at the time Kusher takes this topic head on and even today in some people’s opinions, is a “choice” people make about their sexual preferences? I can’t help but feel that HIV positivity plays that role of the irrefutable diagnosis the characters cannot escape, and directly partners itself with homosexuality throughout the play, as Kushner explores, is then less of a “diagnosis” and is rather the way you live your life, whether or not you “choose” it. With that close partnership between the two, Kushner seems to be heavily indicating it is NOT a choice and is just another form of irrefutable and scientific identification.

      • Great thoughts, guys. Layne, regarding Roy’s identity as HIV positive and as a gay man. I think you are right in saying HIV is a more definitive characteristic because it is a black and white scenario, you either are or aren’t. However, I would like to qualify that by mentioning you can be HIV positive undetectable (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tyler-curry/hiv-positive-and-undetectable-what-does-it-really-mean_b_3332221.html) which essentially means that through anti-retroviral treatment, an HIV positive person has reduces the likelihood of transmitting the disease by 96%. In terms of identity however, even if someone were HIV negative undetectable, they would like still identify in some way with those who are HIV positive because they have undergone – and still are – taking medication and the implications of that. I agree that ones sexual orientation is a fluid (and people today should think of it as such rather than as a binary construct), which is why Roy is able to deflect coming to terms with it.

    • Timothy I find it interesting that you had the understanding that when a partner is diagnosed with HIV or AIDS the other partner ends up staying in the relationship or becoming diagnosed themselves. The reason I find it so interesting is because it makes me wonder how many other people have this same belief. More often than not people who find out that their partners, or anyone that they are intending to become intimate with, are diagnosed with HIV or AIDS end up leaving. Furthermore, I agree with your comments on identity and issues surrounding the “coming out” process and homosexual community especially in regards to Roy. I found Roy’s situation interesting because it portrays the mindsets of so many individuals, LGBT or not, and the struggles people face while navigating their sexual orientation. Great comments!

  2. Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” was by far my favorite play to read. As we discussed during class on Thursday, this play (to me at least) read more like a book or a movie script, due to its detailed scene descriptions, than it did a live play. I enjoyed this form of reading because it was easier for me to understand what was going on. In addition, I don’t think that this sort of writing would limit the creativity of the play directors because there are a variety of scenes that include extraordinary phenomena, such as angels crashing through ceilings and people vanishing or appearing out of thin air. I wish that we had the opportunity to see this play this semester because I’d like to see how these scenes would look onstage, because as of now I only really imagine them as movie scenes that can be edited or include special effects.
    Another aspect about this play that I enjoyed reading was when there were multiple scenes happening side-by-side. This was sometimes confusing to understand because you had to pay close attention to who was speaking with whom, but I still enjoyed being able to conceptualize the two scenes at the same time and seeing how they paralleled each other.
    One theme of this play that particularly stood out to me was whether or not the hallucinations, dreams, or angel visits were real. In the beginning, I figured that all of them were just the side effects of the drugs (like Harper’s valium, or the drugs used to treat HIV). I became a little confused when Harper and Prior were in each other’s hallucination/dream, and I liked that Kushner included later on in the play how Prior recognized her from somewhere because it made me think that these “dreams” might actually be reality.
    All in all, I thought that “Angels in America” was very well written. It included humor, tragedy, insanity, religion, and more. It also really made me think about morality, especially when it is revealed that God has left, and the angels insist that time should stop moving forward (which, as Prior tells them, is not possible for humans to do).

    • Genevieve,
      I agree with you about the writing of the play, it seemed easier to follow than some other scripts we’ve read because of the detailed descriptions. But despite these descriptions, I was also wondering how some of the plays more whimsical details were going to be brought to life. I also wish we could’ve seen this play to observe how one director chose how to conquer this task.
      Until reading your post, I don’t think that I appreciated the complexity of the scenes happening side by side. At first, I was a little confused about what was happening, but I know realize that they run at the same time to show how they are related.

  3. When I was reading “Angles in America” I was struck by a line in the very first scene where the Rabbi refers to America as “the melting pot where nothing melted.” When I first read it, the line struck me as very powerful with very strong sentiments but I didn’t think it would carry any meaning for the play as a whole. However, as I kept reading I found that line kept coming to mind and thinking back now I think the idea of America as a “melting pot where nothing melted” is a larger theme that speaks to each character’s individual values and how they interact with one another throughout the play.

    All of the characters in the play are their own distinct individual and possess their own unique sets of beliefs and values and they hardly seem to get along with any of the other characters. There always seems to be clash rather than a melding and appreciation of one another. For example, Louis and Joe have a physical attraction, Joe even believes he loves Louis at one point, but nearly every with them includes an argument over their political views and religious beliefs. Louis cannot accept Joe’s republican affiliation and taunts his Mormon beliefs while Joe berates Louis’ liberal views and his long speeches on democracy and America.

    Even on his death bed, Roy tries to refuse any help from Belize and constantly throws insult after insult at him. Belize and Louis also end up insulting each other in most of their scenes together, despite how long they’ve known each other. I think all of these different relationships show how, at the time, America really was a melting pot in all of the people from different walks of life that came to the country but nothing actually melted together because everyone criticizes those who are different from them and refused to appreciate the qualities people have that are different from themselves.

    By the end of the play there seems to be more of a coexistence among the characters in the final scene with Hannah, Belize, Prior, and Louis, all sitting at the fountain and sharing a moment. But this final moment of mutual appreciation is the result of the seven hours of conflict the audience just witnessed.

    • Hi Molly,

      I completely agree with your analysis of the Rabbi’s line in the beginning of the play. I too found it to be especially powerful and fit very nicely in the work as a whole. One more example I would add is the relationship between Harper and Joe. Although they were together initially and I believe they loved each other on some level, their own “personal melting pot” (i.e., their relationship) refused to bring them together sincerely. Harper, a woman who suffers from some type of mental health disorder and therefore develops a dependency on prescription drugs, cannot possibly understand how Joe can just leave her and pursue a homosexual relationship; as a result, she pushes him away. On the other hand, Joe cannot take Harper’s drug addiction any longer and at one point during the play, he actually says that she scares him. Joe then pushes Harper away too and enters into both a sexual and emotional relationship with Louis. It becomes clear throughout the play that Harper and Joe’s relationship was never meant to be one that they both could melt wholeheartedly together. And, this is not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. They both just made the decision to begin living their truths finally.

    • Hi Molly, thanks for your awesome comments. I like how you brought up the idea of the United States being a sort of quasi-melting pot that doesn’t really melt a whole lot of things. This was particularly interesting in view of the dialogue in the play, which, as you pointed out, often involves characters insulting one another or behaving in generally uncivil ways. This of course isn’t limited to people who didn’t know one another, but also people who had known each other for quite a while, or who we had every reason to expect them to be civil to one another. It’s an extremely long play, but that only serves to make the eventual mutual appreciation that you noted all the more important.

    • Molly, I also found the idea that the United States is a “melting pot where nothing is melted” really thought-provoking. I too found it interesting how the characters were originally unable to accept certain fundamental characteristics about each other but, in the end, were able to coexist somewhat peacefully. I think that this idea plays out not only in the relationships between the characters but also in the characters themselves. Each character’s own personal struggle with identity seems to be rooted in this idea that certain identities and attributes cannot be mixed. For example, Joe’s struggle with his faith and sexuality displays this tension that results from a society that contains a great multitude of identities that don’t all necessarily mix.

  4. I feel it is pretty sad that a play written so long ago addresses issues still facing the HIV and AIDS community today. That is why I really want to talk about Prior and his bravery and consequences when dealing with Louis. I work for an organization that focuses on rights, resources, and the education of the HIV+ and AIDS community. I find it disappointing that Louis left Prior because of his diagnosis with AIDS. Sure, I can understand why Louis decided that it was too much to handle – being with a partner diagnosed with AIDS – but this is a backlash that the HIV and AIDS community faces every day.

    On top of the backlash there is an immense amount of stigma that comes along with the diagnosis. I understand that the play was set in a different time where there was not much information regarding AIDS or HIV, since then that has changed and technology has come to light, but the consequences and stigma have not changed much if at all. Many people think that once someone is diagnosed it is over for them; they are destined to live a short life. That is not true. Others think that you can get HIV or AIDS from sitting on the same toilet as someone who is diagnosed or by drinking out of the same cup. This is not true. Others believe that you cannot have intercourse with someone who is diagnosed because you will automatically have transfer. This is not necessarily true either.

    There are ways to avoid these stigmas and misunderstandings. Transfer occurs solely through bodily fluids such as blood or semen, therefore sitting on a toilet or sharing a cup is not a way for transferring. Having sex with someone who is diagnosed does not mean transfer will definitely occur – it is a risk, but not a definite thing. You can use protection such as condoms or PrEP (a new way for individuals who are not HIV+ to reduce the risk substantially solely by taking the medication.) Lastly, people live long and healthy lives after being diagnosed. This play has shown me that theater can, not only transcend boundaries onstage, but transcend the boundaries of time. However, it also shows that we have a long way to go in educating humanity on these issues.

    • Hi James,
      I completely agree with your refection on the stigma and misunderstandings that surround people with HIV and AIDS, which was especially apparent in the 1980s, but still continues to exist today. I couldn’t help but despise Louis throughout the play due to his selfish abandonment of Prior. One thing that you mentioned that stood out to me is how many people who are diagnosed with HIV or AIDS believe that they will only have a short amount of time left to live. This stigma is particularly dangerous because (as a variety of studies have shown) when patients have this hopeless mindset it can actually make them stay sick or become worse than if they held a positive, more optimistic view.

    • Hey James!

      Thank you for bringing attention to this issue of HIV/AIDS in this play. It was definitely a theme that deserves significant consideration. At the very least I think our society has made some progress in educating our young people in prevention and personal responsibility. By this I mean that individuals who have been exposed are more likely to get tested today, inform their sexual partners, and seek treatment. Sadly, many people do not seek medical attention because they have a pessimistic view of their circumstances, but I’ve been impressed by initiatives that provide treatment to individuals with low incomes and, like you said, raise spirit with regard to a long and healthy future.

    • James,

      This is an interesting aspect of the play to focus on. The stigma around HIV/AIDS actually reminds me of the way that cancer used to be stigmatized. In the first part of the 20th century, before much was known about cancer, it was seen as something that people had brought onto themselves by sin, and people who had cancer became isolated and feared. Of course cancer is not brought on by bad karma and is not contagious, but people didn’t know and therefore reacted with fear. I think the same thing happened when HIV/AIDS became widespread and very little was known about it. Hopefully with the wealth of knowledge that exists about it now, the stigma will gradually decrease accordingly, as it has with cancer.

  5. Kushner’s Angels in America trapezes an interesting plain between its hard structure, with heavy stage direction and constant dialogue, and the emotional spaces of its characters, explored through their struggles and interactions with others. Scenes where two unrelated conversations, seemingly occurring in different spaces, overlapped and merged into one fluid dialogue that built off each other specifically struck me with their complexity. The first time we see this occur in the script, Joe and Roy are conversing in a restaurant about Joe’s possible move to Washington, while Louis and some random man flirt and have sex in a park (57). Pieces of dialogue are blocked into sections, transitioning us between two separate scenes occurring simultaneously. First, Roy and Joe are speaking. Then interjects the narrative of Louis and this man, and once the man admits he lives with his parents, we jump back again to Joe and Roy until Roy concludes “this isn’t a good world.” Then we are right back with Louis’ story, until the man leaves after the condom breaks. Joe and Roy pick up again, Roy reveals he is dying from “cancer,” and Scene 4 ends. This entire dual interaction, while occurring in different spaces yet seemingly simultaneous, led me to question Kushner’s decision to link these two moments. Perhaps all the characters are showing true vulnerability, one pair with their emotional honesty, and another with their sexual openness?

    The second notable scene where Kushner intentionally overlaps action and dialogue are the last scenes, where Louis comes back to Prior and Harper leaves Joe. The specific moment when Harper leaves the room, the stage directions read, “Harper and Mr Lies vanish. Joe looks up, see that she’s gone.” Immediately following, Prior says, “When I open your eyes, you’ll be gone.” In Scene 7 of the fifth and final Act, we see this continuation of action and dialogue continue when Harper leaves again, and then Louis immediately states, “I want to come back to you” (284). In the first example, the action continues and builds upon itself self-reflectively between the two scenes. In the second example, they are directly contrasted as Harper leaves and Louis discusses the possibility of returning. These overlaps clearly position the two couples as not only potential comparisons, but as continuations of each other, pairs that can exist without the other yet somehow feed off the other in a symbiotic toxicity.

    Finally, I was drawn to Harper’s first and last words in the play. We are first introduced to her as she contemplates life, stating, “So when we think we’ve escaped he unbearable ordinariness and, well, untruthfulness of our lives, it’s really only the same old ordinariness and falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth. Nothing unknown in knowable. Don’t you think it’s depressing?” and ending with, through it all, “you can see… how sick you are” (16). While these ruminations occur in her Valium-induced insanity, further highlighted through her Edgar Allan Poe reference to The Raven with her “Nevermore” reference, her words reveal her fears alongside her ability to think more critically about the worth of life itself. In Scene 8 of Act 5, she closes out the work:

    “Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.”

    Her final points come full circle, bringing into metaphorical analysis the atmosphere yet again and concluding that life is a process of wishing for our pasts while hoping for our futures. Her consistent escapes from reality, influenced by her Valium addiction, somehow allow her to see reality more clearly, even if she cannot recognize her own ability to do so.

  6. We read Angels in America in its entirety. That is, we read both parts of this production at the same time. I’m curious about the experience of those people who only saw part one or part two, as separate entities. I find it interesting that you can stage one or the other, without the context of its partner.

    I find this structure especially interesting since there doesn’t seem to be any slid resolution at the end of Part One: Millennium Approaches. Prior succumbs to an extreme vision, and Joe succumbs to his equal desires. It fells more like the beginning of a play, rather than the end of one. So much of the characters and the world is set up in Part One, that I wonder how an audience would react to just its counterpart, Part Two: Perestroika, with its Cold War undertones.

    I would normally suggest that perhaps Tony Kushner didn’t need to write two separate plays, and instead could have condensed the story into one. But here, I find no way to condense; no place to cut the fat. Every moment and line of dialogue is integral to the play. Without each character, the play would lack a viewpoint that is so important to the heart of the story.

    And beside all of the messages about sexual orientation and relationships and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, this is a play about viewpoints. The mirroring of the two relationships set up in the beginning are a reminder that every story has two sides. For every failed marriage, their are two broken people. And in the world, nothing is as simple as putting a label on someone.

    Every person’s viewpoint is valid, even if it conflicts with your personal beliefs. I found it interesting how even a character, such as Hannah, who might have been intended to be less sympathetic, still found a hold on my sympathies. She’s just trying to live life the way she sees fit, even if she’s going about it in the completely wrong way.

    • I completely agree with you about the length of this play, and how every line was necessary in order to develop and explore each character, their struggles and their viewpoints to the fullest extent. It is interesting that every character has an incredibly unique viewpoint. Roy, for instance, refuses to view himself (at least openly) as a gay man. He chooses to understand the meaning of 
“homosexual” and his place within that world in a way that directly contradicts the viewpoints of his doctor, Belize and others. There were also multiple ways in which I (and characters such as Prior) can view Louis’ leaving of Prior. For example, is Lewis a coward and thus a despicable character, or is there more to Louis’ struggle that we could all understand and sympathize with? Ultimately, I think that Kushner did an excellent job at presenting these complicated viewpoints to the audience, and thus creating an intricate, multi-layered and thus very real set of characters and story line.

    • Mairead,
      Your response got me thinking about Kushner’s choice to structure the show as two separate plays. I too wonder how the audience would react to watching all of Part One, becoming so invested in these characters and the events that have already unfolded and knowing there is an entire second play and that these characters’ stories are not over. I wonder if they had a different reaction than we did because we read the whole play and experienced the full story in one sitting as opposed to audiences who saw Part One and then had to wait a full day for the rest of the story in Part Two. For me at least, I was so invested in the story I kept reading and reading because I had to know what was going to happen and I never really questioned where the story was going to go. But I wonder if there was this build up and anticipation for audiences who had to wait for Part Two. I can imagine the audience going home after watching Part One and spending the next day making predictions about where they thought the story would go in Part Two and forming opinions about all of the characters that may change drastically after getting the whole story.

  7. Tony Kushner’s “homebody\Kabul” is provocative in forcing the audience to “understand” and face the babblings within each of us. He brilliantly takes scripture (Genesis ), and makes it come alive in the opening scene where the main character, Homebody is surrounded by the comforts of home, but her thoughts are afar in Kabul. As she reads from “The Homebody” with ramblings directed to the reader\audience, I can feel my head swimming in exhaustion, and yet intrigue. Perhaps this is another emotion Kushner wants to leave the reader\audience feeling in order to fully understand the inner stirrings within Homebody’s mind.

    Yet reading through the complex “syntax”, and her faulty “diction”, I am driven to follow Homebody from London to Afghanistan in hopes of finding clarification to her logic. I get it… I understand feeling trapped within the confines of invisible expectation, only to drown out the whispering voice that is truly you. Kushner initially leaves me feeling sympathetic towards Homebody. Her life feels pathetic because she states, “The Present is always an awful place to be”, and what circumstances could evoke such pungent emotion? Kushner evokes an inner challenge within me on how “happiness” can be defined by any given individual. And somehow Kushner tells the reader in his title “Homebody\Kabul” that one can choose to leave behind the mundane for unknown adventure.

    The tone of this script felt like a wrestling of one within their mental cocoon. Each character with their prospective backgrounds brings a uniqueness that is foreign (to some degree) to the other characters. My head swirled trying to compartmentalize the wide variation of foreign languages passing back and forth between Dr. Qari Shah, Khwajaaziz Mondanabosh, Priscilla Ceiling, Quango Twistleton and Milton Ceiling as they are all trying to resolve– or dare I say ignore– the circumstances surrounding Homebody. I appreciate how Kushner uses the names of his characters to convey an unspoken message requiring further reflection. The metaphor in giving the main family a last name like “Ceiling” is striking because their communication has hit the roof, and “the sun and the stars” have fallen down” as Homebody explains in the opening scene.

    His usage of “homebody” and “ceiling” makes me think of a quaint, happy family. The cozy description in the opening scene takes my mind there momentarily, until Homebody opens her mouth to reprove the reader\audience. Then an abrupt mental shift occurs from a “home” to a confined space with robotic movement and designated oxygen for each character. The gasps of air each of them inhales as a means to exhale their frustration, which blows a smokescreen of tension across my mind, and I inwardly gasp too. Kushner creates this imagery well with the usage of the cigarette smoke and the drug scenes.

    Kushner accomplishes his goal of captivating his reader\audience from the opening scene through the closing line with the shuffling of subserviant Afghani women. The sharp behaviors of the Munkrat as he grills Priscilla Ceiling on her whereabouts created instinctual tension throughout the muscles within my body. I am left with a sense that Kushner wants to ignite the reader\audience to avoid touring life vicariously through another’s eyes, but instead being an active traveler through unfamiliar territories while enjoying the journey to your destination. I find it clever that he also cautions the reader\audience to be careful what you wish for because the ending scene leaves me befuddled. Mahala, the Afghan woman, in the closing scene makes me feel like the journey I have just taken through “Homebody\Kabul” has come full circle, and I am left breathless again. I want to securely fasten my oxygen mask across my mouth, and give voice to the transformative woman being perpetually birthed at any given moment throughout the course of my day. The discovery of one’s authentic voice is beautiful, but communicating effectively can be challenging.

  8. Let’s be honest. This play is incredibly long. But once I got into it I realized that it needs to be because Kushner explores so many issues of social controversy and importance.

    Perhaps what I love most so far are the personal monologues some of the characters give that reveal issues they’re struggling with. For instance, when one of the gay men tells his partner about the fundamental problem with the justice system, it made a lot of sense to me. He says that court verdicts boil things down to a simple answer when we should be taking an entire series of complex factors into account. I suppose this is a metaphor for the afterlife. Jews and Christians believe in a black and white afterlife, and this upsets him because our lives are not black and white, they’re shades of grey and that should be considered.

    During the hallucination scene as a result of the pills, I enjoyed the symbolism of reflection. When he sees himself in drag, looks in the mirror, and realizes the makeup doesn’t do it for him anymore, I really empathize with him. His disease is eating him from the inside out and all the makeup in the world can’t cover the issues rising to the surface: the brevity of life, and the image of homosexuals in society.

    This play identifies issues of how homosexuals are viewed by society. When he’s told that the Mormon Church does not believe in homosexuals, I was impressed that he responded that their church didn’t believe in Mormons. It shows that he is capable of withstanding the criticisms of society while closeted gay people, also portrayed in the play, we see have a much more difficult time. “Homosexuals are men who have zero clout.” But I have clout, so I’m not seen as a homosexual, implies one of them, for instance.

  9. One of the first things that struck me as I began to read Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America was exactly how fun it was to read. Angels is a play completely packed with entertaining dialogue. Often, the snappy dialogue often belays the weighty content of the dialogue itself. And there is plenty of weighty content to be delivered in this play. Angels is a play that doesn’t shy away from big ideas or from the consequences of those ideas. We see this most clearly in the varied cast of characters that Kushner has assembled for us. These characters are brought to life in an exquisitely painful fashion. It was painful, at least for me, because their lives are both painful and messy. This is partly due to the circumstances our characters find themselves in, but also because most people’s lives rarely resemble the perfect state we would like them to. Real world issues like relationship problems, disease, and infidelity or emotional disconnectedness tend to intrude and to diminish whatever sense of control we have over our own lives. This is something that I think you see quite clearly in Angels in America. Closely related to this theme is another relating to identity. We, the audience, are confronted quite clearly with the struggle that some of Angel’s characters go through with regard to identity. It is a common and observable phenomenon that most people tend to associate their identities with particular traits that they exhibit. These could be things like race or sexual orientation, but could also be based on something like social status or even a particular skill or profession. Throughout Angels, we see very clearly the extent to which certain characters use sexual orientation to define their identity. One example that comes readily to mind is in scene eight, where Joe tries to differentiate between actions and orientation and Harper struggles with her status as a mentally deranged housewife. These are just a few of the interesting points brought up in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. This post has mentioned only a very few of the many reasons why this play is such an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

    • I completely agree with your point about how fun it was to read. The content, of course, was very real and difficult at times, but the dialogue was certainly exhilarating. Reading the back and forth, as you mentioned, helped to lighten the load of the sometimes overwhelming content. It allowed Kushner to tackle these difficult topics while not scaring off his audience. It also made the issues more real and personal. It is one thing to read about these issues, but a completely different thing to go through what real couples experienced. You also touched on the sense of control that people think they do or do not have. I think the lack of control that people have on an illness can cause a high amount of anxiety, leading to actions that they may have not partook in otherwise (such as infidelity, abandonment, etc.).

    • I also appreciated the readability of this play. I think that sometimes when we as a society talk about civil rights’ issues, such as gay rights, we can lose focus of the fact that they’re people, plain and simple, not just concepts. I thought Angels in America did a great job of pointing out flaws in our society surrounding these diverse groups of people ,while simultaneously maintaining the fact that they’re people, with problems outside of those imposed by society.

      One thing I would like to explore further: how prominent Mormanism is in the play. I felt as if there was a lot surrounding this idea that, yes, even Mormons are people too, and I’m not exactly sure what to make of it.

  10. The journey individuals take to discover how they negotiate the various identities they relate to is a timeless process that makes “Angels in America” an epic (aside from its length) that will continue to be explored and produced around the world. The dichotomy in many of the characters social identities (gay and Jewish or gay and a Mormon Republican) is global phenomenon people have struggled with for centuries if one just considers cultural identity and immigration patterns around the world (I suppose for some nations such as the US this is more relevant than countries with a more homogenous demographic make-up such as Iceland). The struggle of identifying as gay for Roy and Joe speaks to pressures set forth by family, identity, and expectations. Because the US and several places in the world are still warming up to gay culture, this play has never lost its relevance. And decades or a century from now, when the world becomes a more progressive place for people to live openly as gay, this play will serve as a reminder not to take the freedom for granted.

    This brave piece addresses HIV and AIDS at time in US history and culture where the gay community – and the US at large – was terrified because they were tackling what appeared to be an insurmountable force. Today, it is possible to live a healthy life as an HIV positive person, however the hysteria of decades ago is still felt today in the strong negative stigma associated with the disease. It is through efforts like these that cultural perceptions change for the better.

    The hallucinations in the play make for an interesting read as well as the side-by-side dialogue that happens. Though it was often confusing to read and I struggled a bit, it was an interesting format to present certain scenes. I think this was a beautiful way to mirror the chaos of our lives, which incessantly have several things going on as a result of our relationships.

  11. Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, is by far the longest and most symbolic play I have ever encountered. When reading the play, it almost felt more like a book or a movie than a live play. One of the first things I thought about while reading the play was how the stage directions would be performed live, since there are many parts that have to appear hallucinatory or impossible. I wondered how a director would create the illusions of things crashing through walls or people vanishing into thin air.

    Another thing that stuck out to me in this play was the fact that HIIV/AIDS was affecting so many people who from the outside seemed wouldn’t have any common ground. The relationships of all of the characters intertwined in a very interesting way, such as how Joe and Louis end up living together for a month.

    A scene that really fascinated me was when Harper’s hallucination and Prior’s dream collided. I had to read it twice and closely to make sure I understood what was going on. I thought that it was interesting how both of these characters who were suffering in their own ways came together in a fantasy and comforted each other.

    I was surprised and disappointed that Louis left Prior when he got sick. I think this is expressed when Louis is talking to the Rabbi, asking for advice on what to do if he wants to leave someone he loves in a time a need. The Rabbi cannot give him an answer and replies “Why would a person do such a thing?”. This should have been a sign to Louis that abandoning Prior was a mistake. Even if he felt he couldn’t handle seeing his loved one in pain and suffering, Louis had an obligation to stay and be there for him, and he failed in that respect.

  12. I struggle with the topic of identity. Not because I struggle so much with my own identity, but because I haven’t had to struggle with my own identity. What I mean to say, is that reading and writing about a dilemma with identity is hard for me. My life experiences give me little insight, not only because of who I am, but also because of where I grew up and what was surrounding me. As a white, suburban, middle class child attending a catholic school, I dealt with little to no issues regarding race, sexual orientation, economic status, etc. But despite all of this, all of this lack of understanding and experience that I have, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tony Kushner’s ‘Angels in America’. The conflicts regarding issues of identity further educated me on long standing and crucial issues that affect so many. For example, the issue of HIV and AIDS in the gay community has never been so real to me then when reading the play. I have heard and read about this before, but the play brought it to life. Having to balance the want for one to stay with their partner and the natural feelings of self-preservation that would lead one to stay away from those with illness is devastating in the play. The stress and anxiety that occurs was made evident through Louis’s experience, and his eventual abandonment of his partner. This powerful message in the play, of commitment and hardship, spoke more directly to my own life experiences. I have had family members diagnosed with various diseases and ailments, and I have seen first-hand the anguish it puts their loved ones through. It is easy to say that you should always stay with your partner or loved one no matter what, but it is much more difficult to do so in practice. Overall, this play opened my eyes to a topic I knew little about, and reaffirmed to me how no matter how different I may be from other people, we all go through and struggle with many of the same types of issues.

    • Hi Stephen,
      I really appreciate your honesty with how little you know about people who struggle with their identity. Even with that little understanding it doesn’t seem to me that you went into this play’s experiences with a closed mind. I also appreciate how generous you are with Louis. I don’t think he is a bad person either. He very much desired to be the type of person to be there for the one he loves, but he just didn’t have the courage to do it. Being cowardly doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person.

    • Stephen-
      I admire your post and your willingness to admit why you struggle with the topic of identity. I grew up in similar circumstances, and I do not usually like to admit it to others, but I feel like you embraced your background and how it contributed to your understanding and interpretation of the play. I also agree that Kushner really brought the issues about HIV and AIDS and how it affect the homosexual community into the spotlight. Like you said, it’s easy for couples to originally agree to stay together “no matter what happens,” but until you’re put in that situation, it’s difficult to know how you’ll react and I think we definitely saw that in the play with Louis and Prior’s relationship.

    • Stephen, I did not know how to initially phrase my feelings about this play, but I found that what you said summed it up for me as well. I was concerned that because I never struggled with my sexuality or had a personal connection with HIV/AIDS that I would not connect with this play as much as I did. Like you, I had learned and read about these issues, I never personally connected with them; they felt far away and something that had happened long ago. I think that was why I was so drawn in to this story and to the characters. Kushner made this struggle real, he put faces and names to something I considered far away and out in the world. His ability to reach a wide audience with such a focused subject is something I am very impressed by. Louis’s decision to leave Prior was a very eye-opening part of the play, and your ability to find common ground and relate to this was how I felt as well. Thank you for putting it into words.

      • Stephen, thanks for your post. You make a interesting point about identity that Kushner addresses in an creative way. Prior, Joe and Louis all white men, but the communities they most identify with are very different. Leaving aside their sexual orientation, Prior identifies as a WASP, Louis as a Jew, and Joe as a Mormon. I think it’s interesting how Kushner talks about the “melting pot that hasn’t melted” and these men struggling with identity. As a white, middle class woman, I can empathize with your feelings towards the conversation of identity. However, I think Kushner makes a great point that our the identities of Americans are often more varied than we think.

  13. With everyone in this play struggling with forming, accepting, and shaping their identities, it was amazing to see how Tony Kushner captured the vulnerable moments of these individuals. In nearly every dialogue there’s the accusation of homosexuality in the context of the mid 80’s, and from these accusations, the characters exhibit their own defense/ coping mechanisms that readers from all spectrum can relate to. I was able to comprehend each character’s motives, triggers, and insecurities despite getting shocked at the actions these characters commit – like Louise leaving Prior, or Roy affirming that he has liver cancer. I am drawn to these characters because they were so real. And I attribute this realness to how this play was written. The dialogues ran so smoothly so much so that even when some dialogues overlapped, the flow was not interrupted. (Roy, Joy & Louis, Man scene; Louis, Prior & Harper, Joe scene) The stage directions were unconventional as it contained information for the actors of the atmosphere they have to attain during that scene (ex/ “Hannah’s shocked but doesn’t show it; it’s hard to look at but she manages” or “A possibility of sex still hangs in the air”) Moreover, the opening of each part was also very interesting to me. I wonder why Tony Kushner would have started each part with a speech – when we don’t see a dialogue, when the characters are there to only listen without the usual interaction.

    • As is often the case with the performances so far this semester, the question of relatability takes center stage. For Kushner, he was able to capture the reader’s attention by making the dialogue so accessible. Part of what made the work so great was the flow that it took; I was able to follow along rather well. Thus, I was drawn in more and more to the inner crises of each character. As someone looking to enter the next phase of my life in a few years, this play struck a chord with me in that it forced me to consider what makes me me. And for me, that’s why Kushner’s play succeeded so well in what it set out to do.

  14. I found this play very uncomfortable to read at times. The exploration of personal struggles with identity felt far more explicit and intense than that of many other plays I have read and seen. While most of the other plays that we have seen or read in class this semester have shown a character struggle towards an identity that they have already accepted or want for themselves, this play shows characters struggle against identities and the characteristics that belong to them.

    For example, the scene in which Henry and Roy discuss Roy’s AIDS diagnosis was very difficult and uncomfortable to read. While it becomes obvious to the audience through Roy and Henry’s dialogue that Roy acquired the disease through sexual intercourse with other men, Roy adamantly argues that he is a heterosexual man. His argument that “homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men” but rather men who have no power and no connections clearly displays Roy’s ignorance and intense personal fight against his sexuality. Each character in the play exhibits a similar standoff with an aspect of their identity. For instance, Harper struggles with her identity as a wife, Joe struggles with his identity as a homosexual man, and Louis struggles with his identity as Prior’s partner. Each character experiences a shock to their reality and current circumstances that alter their perceptions of their own identities. When Louis acquires AIDS and is forced to be hospitalized, his idea of himself as an all-powerful, unbreakable lawyer is shattered. The final breaking point for Louis seems to be when his law license is revoked and he is forced to live without the titles and connections that seemed to cloud his perception of himself for most of the play.

    While acceptance of identities plays a very important role in this play, I found the struggle to accommodate identities far more essential to the messages of the individual characters’ stories. For instance, while Joe’s struggle with homosexuality is an important part of his role in the play, his struggle to fit his homosexuality with his faith seemed to be more significant to his personal story. This was the part of the play that felt most uncomfortable to me. While it is difficult to discuss problems with personal identity, it is far more difficult to show the constant pull of conflicting identities that each character experiences. Tension between identities is a shared experience of all humans; it is also a commonality that is difficult to discuss because it strikes at the balance and order that we all desire in our lives. This conflict and unbalance that each character experiences is all too ordinary to many of us. Many try to suppress this feeling of unease which is why this play feels so uncomfortable to read.

  15. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Kushner’s Angels in America was the continuity of themes. In such a long piece, I was worried that different ideas and controversies would dominate much of the flow of the work. While many problems and scenarios did come up, almost all characters were connected and drawn together someway or the other; most often, it was a shared battle with HIV/AIDS. Kushner did a masterful job crafting a universe in which people of all backgrounds and circumstances were nothing more than the same, living together with the same diagnosis. Kushner’s characters then struggled more with their identities, rather than strictly coping with HIV/AIDS; it was more about their identity as a person diagnosed with the disease, rather than being defined by such a disease. Thus, the backgrounds of each character became all the more important.

    Here, the opening monologue of Rabbi Chemelwitz becomes incredibly relevant: “the melting pot where nothing melted.” America is almost always thought of as a nation of immigrants, where people of all different backgrounds have melded together to become one culture, one identity, one America. Now, the question becomes one of honoring one’s past or background. In Angels in America, each person was quite similar; they all dealt with issues of identity or health, trying to manage and cope with their HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Hence the melting pot.

    And yet, each person remained a product of their circumstances. For Kushner’s characters, each person was very much aware of what got them to their current situation in life. The struggles with HIV/AIDS were almost as paramount as the identity struggles for each character. Thus, the great melting pot that is America was not really a melting pot of identities into one; it was simply a melting pot without the fire raging underneath.

  16. Instead of reading Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, I chose to watch it online. I usually find it difficult to read plays because of the stage directions and character names that usually end up confusing me. However, after our class on Thursday when many other students talked about the play reading similar to a book, I took a look at the script and found that it was much easier to read than other plays. I also enjoyed looking through the script because it gave me another chance to reflect on the many monologs that were spoken. One of my favorites was in the earlier scenes when Roy was talking about labels. He says “…they tell you one thing and one thing only: where does an individual so identified fit in the food chain….Not ideology, or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout.” I think our society today struggles with labels, especially in schools or between people who have different religious beliefs. However, like Roy said, labels do not tell you anything about a person, which is why they should be avoided because they are just a way to classify people without getting to know them. Although I did love Roy’s monologue, I hated him for the rest of the play because he only really cared about his own power. I found Prior a much more inspiring character because although he had AIDS, he did not let it define him. I also loved Prior closing speech about how people with AIDS will not have to “die secret deaths anymore” because the world will move on from the stigmatisms. However, I wonder how much of an effect this play had on the homosexual and AIDS culture in America when it first came out.
    In terms of politics, I thought it was an easily identified topic in this play. Clearly, Kushner is an opinionated writer and was not afraid to show his favoritism towards the Democrats, since most of the “bad” people in the play were Republicans and there were many jokes made about Republican political figures.

    • Meaghan,
      I also felt that Prior was a truly inspirational character as it seemed that he kept on getting hit by personal blows; he gets AIDS, his Angel keeps visiting him, and Louise walks out on him. His speech at the end also affected me not only because of his remark on the ‘silent deaths’ but also because of the confidence and self-reliance that Prior has gained throughout all of his trials and tribulations. It was very uplifting to see Prior be strong, have a positive outlook on AIDS and be a proponent for change after all that he had been through. On another note, I am also quite curious to see how this play reacted with the American community especially since 10 years prior AIDS had just been introduced into the country.

  17. For the most part this was an easy play to read and engage with. While reading the play, I found that I created certain tones and pace of speech for certain dialogues. For example, I imagine Roy to be a vile man whose vulgar speech was often fast paced and overbearingly arrogant. I also found the split scenes interesting. Interesting because I could see how during a performance two characters can say a line at the same time. For example, in the Act 2 Scene 9 in which the two relationships were dissolving rather quickly and Harper and Louis both shouted “I’m leaving.” I see this scene translating beautifully on stage because of the dynamic interaction between the two scenes taking place at the same time. I think in order to execute the split scenes properly, the play will need a large stage, but there are minds more creative than my own and could make these scenes work on stages the size of Theater J’s.

    I had a hard time really reconciling the hallucinations with reality in this play. Of course we were often told that Harper was hallucinating or that Prior was hallucinating. However, it seemed that others were aware of their hallucinations. For example Prior and Harper both manifesting in each other’s dream/hallucination and knowing things about one another: threshold of revelation. I didn’t understand that at all. And there was also the scene in which Joe and Harper were in a heated argument and Harper conjures up her “Mr. Lies” who takes her way and from what I understood from what I read Joe witnesses them vanishing.On one hand the hallucinations allows us access into the deep rooted fears and desires of the characters that were hallucinating, on the other hand they were confusing to me as a reader. Where exactly is the line between hallucinations/dreams and reality drawn? Maybe the stage interpretation will make it make more sense.

    Why has Tony Kushner created a play that seems complicated for stage interpretations? Are all his plays like this? I’m sure some seriously talented/creative stage directors love his work because of the challenge they present him with. I, for one, would love to see this play in person and see how one person’s interpretation of its complexities plays out on stage.

    • Ann,
      i know we’ve shared our connections to the play on different levels, but i just saw something in your comment that we didn’t talk about: the split scenes! Every scene with a split had me re-reading severally. I got very confused during the transitions and i would end up starting to read all over again. It was rather frustrating, to say the least. What i learnt from my frustration with those parts, however, was that they served a rather valuable purpose. Originally, as i read the story, i tried very hard to connect the different characters. That consisted of a lot of page- flipping and mental breaks. As the split scenes began to come up, however, i started flipping less and focusing more. The split scenes came across to me as a side-by-side way of processing the different developments in each relationship. That tied the story together a lot more for me, because i began to see more organic and fluid overlap between the characters. I, too, am curious to see how the split scenes will be executed on stage. There’s so much opportunity there that it seems to me like it would be a director’s field day.

  18. Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is truly an incredible piece. When Ari prompted us in class to recall our first encounter with this play, I knew the exact moment. I thought back to an acting class I had taken last year at Berkeley. We were all assigned short excerpts to produce as a fully-realized scene with our group. A scene from Angels in America stuck out to me the most. It was from Act 1 Scene 8, the scene in which Joe comes home to his drugged up wife Harper, who curtly tells him she burnt his dinner. Its an incredibly powerful scene between an unhappily married couple struggling under the charade Joe has constructed. The burden of Joe trying to live as a heterosexual mormon husband, the weight of their religion, and the drug habits of Harper all come to a head in this scene. Trying to work out with fellow students how to stage this, how to set the scene, and what feelings motivate every word spoken was incredible. To focus so narrowly on such a small piece of Kushner’s work was difficult. The subtext and the depth of the play was obvious in this short passage, and I knew that a full 3 and a half hour production would be an unforgettable experience.

    I enjoyed reading the play this week. It was much longer than I anticipated, but I got through it much faster than expected. I believe this is because Kushner’s writing has a way of pulling you in and captivating you. The surreal visions and hallucinations that occur throughout the play were interesting to imagine, and something that would make staging this play unique. As Ari mentioned in class, every place that does a production of this play handles these elements differently. I think that is one of the beautiful things about this play. It can be the same story told all over the world, but each audience gets a different lens to look through.

    The dialogue that Kushner wrote was also very entertaining to read. It flowed so naturally and felt so authentic, it was easy to imagine these as real people having real conversations. The pain that was expressed felt especially real. The horrible tension between Joe and Harper, Louis betraying Prior during his illness, Roy’s denial of his disease, all of this translated into very real emotional responses that came from simply reading this play. Even after I had finished reading and walked away from the text, Kushner’s characters stayed with me when I realized that he wrote exactly what was happening and in some places is still happening. Kushner’s understanding of humanity and all the messy territory that comes with that is incredible, and I look forward to seeing his work in the future.

  19. Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” was a very catching and interesting read. This play had more of a didactic effect on me as it taught me quite a bit about homosexuality. I never knew much about the culture of homosexuality except for the common everyday issues that a typical outsider would hear on the news. To be honest I was unaware and highly uninformed about the issues going on in the LGBTQ community and this play taught me quite a bit from the main issues and concerns to the vernacular idioms and expressions. I had never been this exposed to the culture and I really enjoyed learning about it and reading this play.

    One scene that really stuck with me the most was Scene Four of Millienium Approaches where Prior reveals to Louis that he has AIDS. There were a couple of aspects to this scene that really affected me. First off, when Prior reveals his illness he rolls up his sleeve and mentions that he has K.S. which is ‘the wine dark kiss of the angel of death’. I was completely thrown off and I had to do a couple of minutes of research to figure out what K.S. was and what its significance was. Though in the play, it appears that K.S. (Karposi sarcoma) is something of common knowledge since Louis knew right away and had quite a reaction. Another part of the scene that surprised me was Prior’s behavior when he revealed that he had AIDS. Prior seemed to have a joking attitude about this disease but it seemed like he was just putting up a front for Louis so that he wouldn’t get scared and leave him. This scene really showed me how devoted Prior was to Louis and it really broke my heart when Louis left him in his time of need. This was Prior’s biggest fear and Louis walked out on Prior in a seemingly heartless and cold move. I definitely didn’t think that Prior deserved this after all that he went through with his fight with AIDS and never ending visits from his Angel.

    Though this play was a long read, I did enjoy it as it taught me more about Jewish and homosexual cultures and the importance of personal acceptance. However, I am quite intrigued to see how this play would be acted out on stage with all the explicit dialogue and scenes.

  20. In trying to make sense of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, I keep returning to identity. It goes without saying that identity is a major theme that weaves itself through every filament of the piece. It is rather easy to think of identity as a flat concept with only two sides to it. Tony Kushner’s Angels in America taps into deconstructing the idea that identity is flat and maybe even measurable. I imagine that everyone has had some sort of encounter with identity at some point in their lives. They might have been pleasant discoveries or uneasy confrontations- they were/ are nonetheless encounters with identity. Using a disease understood so far away from the context of identity and humanness, Kushner steps in and challenges us to take another look at what our dynamic encounters with identity are, and he also challenges us to try to find a connection with identity encounters of others who we may/ may not understand.

    Kushner uses the development of the characters to help with unpacking this idea. In the characters, you see the dynamic nature of identity in their individual struggles with who they are and what they want from life. Joe struggled to be a picture perfect Mormon. He and his wife pretended to be happy outside the confines of heir home, but within the confines of their home, there was chaos. Joe also hid his inner conflict with his sexuality under his wife’s emotional condition. Louis, on the other hand, was unable to handle everything that came with Prior’s illness. HIV was part of Prior’s journey with his identity, and it also became a part of Louis’s. He had to decide how much of Prior’s baggage he was willing to carry, and as tough as it was for him to decide- he realized that he needed to go. Roy, struggling with the label of homosexuality, also depicts another facet of self- discovery and identity. He seemed to want to ignore everything he was, and define himself in terms of everything he wasn’t- he wasn’t a homosexual, he wasn’t black, etc. In each of these characters, I saw hiding, denial, and conflict as they tried to define themselves. I imagine this as Kushner’s way to depict the effect of HIV on people’s identity at the time- there was a lot of hiding, denial, and personal conflict. Just as with the general concept of identity, having HIV is indeed complex state, and I appreciate Kushner’s delivery of that complexity.

    • It was very different for me to see how a disease could shape one’s identity so much. An identity dominated by a stigmatized disease in the middle of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when homosexuals were shunned by society is something I won’t be able to grasp. But the self-discovery and the personal conflict every character goes through in this play are moments that everybody could relate to, despite not living in that context. That’s why I too appreciated Kushner’s delivery of the complexity of these characters and the development of these characters.

  21. I thought that the topics delved into by Tony Kushner in “Angels in America” – including the meaning of identity, faith, God and fate – were discussed with incredible depth and wit. For example, there was an incredible exploration of the concept of God and his relationship with humanity. This was done first by setting up a very interesting narrative (as explained by the angel that visits Prior): God created humanity after creating the angels; humanity, as opposed to the angels, are inventive, creative and forward-moving; God has abandoned Heaven, and in turn abandoned his angels; and the angels demand that humanity stop making progress, as it is the only way to bring God back to heaven. Besides being entertaining to read, I thought that the underlying message of this narrative was especially thought-provoking. The basic question seems to be: Has humanity tried to move too fast? Are we trying to do more, experiment more, mingle more, travel more, progress too much too soon, for our own good? Prior explains while he is in heaven with the assembly of angels: “We can’t just stop. We’re not rocks. Progress, migration, motion is…modernity… it’s what living things do”.

    As we have explored through the other plays we have seen this season – “Yentl” and “Awake and Sing!” come to mind most quickly – it seems that there are many institutions in our lives that attempt to restrict different forms of forward-moving, progressive mentality. Family, religion, gender, the list goes on. That is not to say that these institutions are necessarily bad. Rather, we have seen in the plays this season and in Kushner’s “Angels in America”, that sometimes it is necessary for people to break down the barriers created by these large institutions. Prior is right. People are constantly moving forward, coming up with new ways to approach and think about the world, and we cannot stop (nor should we). With progress comes mistakes and perhaps pain, but beyond that we have to hope that there is something greater and better to obtain. And the only way to obtain it, is to keep pushing on.

  22. Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and The Intelligent Homosexual… bring up similar cultural and historical themes. Kushner’s plays are highly focused on the homosexual community in the United States and their interpersonal and societal relations. Both plays are extremely long, at least relative to the others we have seen this semester.

    One thing we discussed in class about Kushner that stood out to me is that he has revised Angels for a recent production. I had never thought of a play as something fluid—I had assumed that after a playwright is done it goes off to the theaters and is interpreted and then they are done with that play. Maybe this is done frequently, but I think it is especially notable here due to the contemporary nature of the themes.

    In addition to the broader themes, Kushner’s plays touch on other hot-button topics such as the very current “death with dignity” debate. This issue was recently brought to the media’s attention recently by Brittany Maynard, who has chosen medically assisted suicide in the face of a deadly brain tumor. Reading I-HO, the debate about what to do about Gus also brought up this question—should people be allowed to decide that they want to end their lives?

    Though I recognize their importance culturally, especially Angels in America in the context of the AIDS epidemic, it is hard for me to appreciate these plays by reading their text. Especially when there are multiple conversations happening at once or special effects happening, it is hard for me to envision the scene. This is true of the other plays we have read before watching in this class as well. I am really looking forward to seeing I-HO, and someday somewhere Angels, so that I can better understand aspects that were unclear or confusing in the text.

  23. Tony Kushner’s Angel’s in America starts out with a focus on two relationships, Prior and Louis, and Joe and Harper. The two relationships parallel each other in that one partner is stagnant, Prior and Harper, and the other is mobile and dynamic, Joe and Louis, both physically and mentally. Harper fears progress, in her first monologue she talks about the coming of the millennium and her fear of the apocalypse. These fears, induced by her Valium addiction, make her so fearful of the outdoors and other rooms in her house that she is physically immobile in the walls of her house. Prior is from an old, WASP family, with roots on the Mayflower. When he falls ill with HIV he quickly becomes physically immobile, trapped inside the confines of a hospital bed. Contrastingly, Joe is a Mormon caught between his faith and his attraction to men, early in the play he is tempted by an offer to move to Washington, DC but finds it difficult to accept because of his sick wife. He is constantly leaving the house going on long walks. Louis is also a dynamic character with a love of progressive politics and an inability to commit to stay beside Prior, his dying boyfriend, because of his fear of death.
    The breakup scene is split-screen with Joe and Prior in Prior’s hospital room and Joe and Harper in their house. Louis reveals to Prior that he is leaving and Harper tells Joe she is needs him to leave. Louis cannot be held back by Prior’s disease and Harper cannot stand Joe’s resentment for her. This scene shows an interesting contrast of progress fearing stagnation and roots fearing change in return. The power dynamic between progress and conservation, mobility and immobility is a theme constantly popping up in this play. There is a lot of talk of the Reagan administration and progressivism, an example would be Louis’ rant on democracy. However, the breakup scene shows an interesting dichotomy of mutual resentment between the two ways of thinking played out simultaneously.

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