Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Angels in America

Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches (1992) and Part Two: Perestroika (1993) by Tony Kushner

This two-part play was the October pick for Classic Book-a-Month Club. Set in the 1980s, it focuses on two couples: Joe and Harper, and Louis and Prior, but other major characters include lawyer Ray Cohn, Joe's mother Hannah, and a nurse named Belize. The story takes place in the height of the AIDS epidemic, and two characters are afflicted. The angels of the title aren't a metaphor - actual angels appear, though they're only one of the fantastical, surreal elements of the play.

Early in the play, Prior is diagnosed with AIDS and his lover, Louis, doesn't deal well with this news, to put it mildly. Joe and Harper's relationship is also crumbling; they are supposed to be good Mormons, but Joe has been repressing his true self for quite a while and Harper is mentally ill.

I knew this was going to be confusing to read as soon as I read the list of characters at the beginning. There aren't a lot of them, but there are specific instructions that the actor playing Harper's imaginary friend Mr. Lies, for instance, should be the same actor who plays Belize, and the actor playing the Angel should also play the nurse, Emily. I really tried to picture the actors in each of these roles but they were a number of instructions of this nature and it was a bit too much to keep in my head the whole time.

I can see that this is a great story and I think watching a production would be rather spectacular, but I'm afraid that the reading experience wasn't great for me. I had such high hopes after A Raisin in the Sun, but this is just such a complicated play that it didn't come through as well on the page for me.

I don't know if this is a play that gets performed often, but I'll keep an eye out for a production because I think I'd really like to see it. In the meantime, I know that HBO made it into a mini-series and I may check that out. I'm a bit daunted by the length - it's about 6 hours and the two volumes together are only about 260 pages, so they must have added a lot to it - but I've heard it's very good.

No comments: