Angels In America: revolutionising LGBT+ theatre
As the landmark production reaches it’s 25th anniversary just in time for LGBT+ History Month, Eve Newstead pays tribute to the iconic and revolutionary Angels In America.
This summer sees the 25th Anniversary of Tony Kushner’s award winning and culturally transforming play Angels in America being premiered at the little Eureka Theatre in San Francisco. It’s unsurprising then that theatres around the world are advertising productions scheduled for this year with immense excitement. Angels in America is set to hit the West End stage and be played live on screens across the country in July.
Kushner’s play is considered one of the most innovative and transformative pieces of American literature. It rebelled against the marginalisation of homosexuals and changed the way gay lives are represented in pop culture throughout America. This month is LGBT History Month and what better way to explore its history than through a revolutionary and still relevant piece of literature.
‘It rebelled against the marginalisation of homosexuals and changed the way gay lives are represented in pop culture throughout America’
The play is divided into two parts: ‘Millennium Approaches’ and ‘Perestroika’ and stretches across 7 hours. The narrative follows the lives of 6 struggling New York residents who are dealing with stigma, confused identity, love, and most significantly, death. Prior Walter discovers he has been diagnosed with AIDS. Louis his boyfriend cannot cope and Prior seeks solace from his former lover Belize, a drag queen. Harper Amaty Pitt’s life is spiralling out of control due to her Valium addiction and the realisation that her husband Joe is gay. Meanwhile, Roy Cohn is condemning of homosexuals, ranting that they are weak. So when Roy visits his doctor he is diagnosed with “liver cancer” not AIDS. An Angel visits Prior and he is given the task of saving humanity from themselves.
The play emerged following the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s that stole the lives of many, and that vilified both AIDS victims and homosexuals. Kushner converses with this issue head on, with frankness, allegory and often humour. Priors closing speech in the Epilogue of Act 2 best sums up the message of the play:
‘This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.’
‘The New York Times stated: ‘You could introduce Angels in America right now… and I think people’s minds would still be blown.’
With any anniversary of such innovative literature we naturally ask ourselves how the writing resonates today. The world has been spinning forward for gay rights however there is still vast improvement to be done. Following the Orlando nightclub attack last year Wesley Morris, writing for the New York Times stated: ‘You could introduce Angels in America right now… and I think people’s minds would still be blown.’
Kushner’s play is enduringly progressive and should be looked to for a source of inspiration for the battle against marginalisation of groups in society. If you can’t make it to a production, or a live screening of the play this summer then get your hands on the HBO series. A six part series featuring Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson that wonderfully captures the imagination of Kushner and was the winner of 5 Golden Globes.
(Image courtesy of Cylla Von Tiedmann)