Friday, November 13, 2009

My Review of "Angels In America"

Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Mike Nichols

Prior: “I’m almost done. The fountain’s not flowing now; they turn it off in the winter, ice in the pipes. But in the summer it’s a sight to see. I want to be around to see it. I plan to be. I hope to be. 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.”

Quite a lengthy speech but it’s certainly one of many memorable ones from this play. A play that 18 years after its debut became one of the most successful and engaging mini-series that HBO have ever produced. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and grab a copy.

Angels In America is primarily as gay themed as you can get. On one hand you have Prior and Louis, a couple who’ve been together for the last four years but whose world are turned upside down when Prior finds out that he has AIDS. Louis’s ultimate response is to abandon his lover and take with a new one.

That leads to our second couple, Harper and Joe. From the offset their marriage is on thin ice with her erratic behaviour and his distancing from her. Learning that he’s gay and deeply closeted will shock very little people but his self-loathing and hypocrisy is ultimately the ending of both his marriage and his dalliance with Louis as well.

The other main gay character in the frame is Roy Cohen. One of the most ruthless men on the planet, he also suffers from AIDS (like Prior) and is deeply closeted about his sexual identity (like Joe from the start). His ending is the one resulting in death, haunted by the nice Ethel, who he had sent to the electric chair.

In between these stories, is also the arrival of the Angel. She’s the one that convinced Prior that he was a prophet of some kind, though it’s sort of disappointing that he doesn’t really get to realise that out. Though there is a moment within both plays were he got to see heaven, so things weren’t all bad.

One of the strongest things about this story is the characters. They’re all as fucked as you can get and for some reason, it’s great to see that neither Harper/Joe nor Prior/Louis actually reconcile. Some relationships are meant to be shipped but the two prominent ones in this story aren’t those of relationships. It also that every character is believable, regardless of how you might feel about them.

Some of the other characters in this story flourish brilliantly as well. While Harper is actually the character I empathised with (apart from Louis), I also immensely enjoyed Joe’s rather repressed mother, Hannah and Prior’s flamboyant friend, Belize who certainly provided moral support for his pals and wonderfully pithy dialogue all the through.

In terms of sexual content, there isn’t actually a lot to speak of. Joe got at least two sex scenes with both Louis and Harper and the Angel herself had sex with both Prior and Hannah. Now that was weird to watch. Then again, this was a polemic double play with a strong message in regards to AIDS back in the 1980’s, a message that still holds relevance today.

- This was made into a mini-series in 2003, with Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Mary Louise-Parker, Jeffrey Wright, Al Pacino and Justin Kirk tackling the main roles.
- Between plays and mini-series, there isn’t much in the way of changes. I think some scenes were a little skimmed but that’s all.
- The plays themselves went under the titles of “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika”.
- Jeffrey Wright is one of the few actors to have played the character of Belize both on stage in 1993 and on screen in 2003.

Touching on a lot of important themes, “Angels In America” certainly made great use of its six hour running. Also with a powerhouse cast, it’s no wonder that this is one of the most highly regarded pieces of work.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

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