Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
is a two part theatrical epic by American playwright Tony Kushner
. Its two parts, Millennium Approaches
take place from October 1985 through February 1986 with a brief epilogue
taking place in February 1990. The story revolves entirely around its characters and the unworldly and all-too-worldly events that occur in their lives. AIDS
, sin catching up to ones self, and oh yeah...hallucinated characters, encountering other characters within dreams, a trip to heaven and in the play's most memorable image, an angel crashing through a roof. Angels in America
is a play in which incredibly surreal
and unworldly events take place, but overall has a very realistic
emotional core. The play makes social commentary
, the Ronald Reagan
administration and the AIDS epidemic
The main characters are the two New York City-based couples, Joe and Harper Pitt, a married Mormon couple and Louis Ironson and Prior Walter, two homosexual men living together, who have their relationships torn apart. The Pitt's due in part to a relocation that Harper does not agree with, Joe's inability to deal with Harper's valium addiction yet most importantly, Joe coming to terms with his homosexuality. Prior & Louis split when Prior informs him that he has contracted AIDS and Louis is not one to deal with such heavy issues. Two notable supporting characters include Belize, an ex-drag queen who takes care of Prior in his sickness. Belize also takes care of Roy Cohn, a non-fictional character who was a New York lawyer most famous for his work during the Army-McCarthy Hearings. The two plays involve 35 characters, yet the Angels in America script calls for eight principal actors to play all 35 roles. The play takes place primarily in New York City, but also hops around to places such as Antartica and Heaven.
Angels in America is a challenge to workers in every facet of the theatre. Technically, the show requires a lot of incredible feats. Kushner even mentions in the scripts that sound aspects such as the angel's voice must be entirely believable, he even goes into great detail on how the angel's cough must sound just right. The show's lighting and sets are key on selling both its surrealism and realism, yet the real challenge is the fact that the production is meant to be done with no blackouts, none at all. The stage crew also has great importance, especially during the conclusion of Millennium Approaches. And of course, with a limited number of performers playing multiple complex characters, in all its glamour, the show is a huge challenge to an actor.
It's difficult just to summarize how much of an impact Kushner's two-part epic has had on not only the world of theatre, but the world of arts & entertainment in its entirety. Millennium Approaches was first performed in a workshop-type production in 1990 at Los Angeles's Mark Taper Forum. That same year it won the Fund for New American Plays Award given by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In 1991, it had its first official production with the Eureka Theatre Company of San Francisco. That year it won the Bay Area Drama Critics Award for Best Play and the National Art Club's Joseph Kesselring Award. It was being hailed by many as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, yet during Millennium Approaches, Kushner had still not written Perestroika, thus putting extreme pressure on him to write a Part Two to such a great play, as Millennium Approaches has quite an open-ended conclusion. In May 1991, the Eureka Theatre Company of San Francisco. As Millennium Approaches opened in a Royal National Theatre production in London, Perestroika was first officially performed at Mark Taper Forum. During Millennium Approaches London run, the play won the London Evening Standard Award for Best New Play and the London Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, while during Perestroika's first run, it won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play.
On May 4th, 1993, Millennium Approaches opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre on West 48th Street in New York City. In November 1993, Parts One and Two were run in repertory to one another on Broadway, making for one hell of an incredible theatrical experience. The play swept up, Millennium Approaches was nominated for 8 Tony Awards and won 5 including Best Play. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best Play, the Drama Desk award for Best Play and won Kushner the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The production of Perestroika on Broadway played for 217 productions in comparison to the 367 productions for Millennium Approaches. Yet it was nominated for 6 Tony Awards at the 1994 ceremony and won 3 including Best Play and the Drama Desk Award for Best Play. Its Broadway run ended on December 4th, 1994 and was followed by an extensive national tour. Today the play is most commonly done by theatre-centric colleges & universities. The play has been staged in dozens of foreign language productions across the globe.
In 2003, HBO Films aired a mini-series based on the play directed by Mike Nichols, who few can parallel in both major theatrical and cinematic honors. It was the most-watched cable show of 2003, was nominated for 21 Emmy Awards and won 11 including Outstanding Miniseries as well as 7 Golden Globe Awards nominations and winning 5 including Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television. Also that year,
Angels in America has become one of the defining works of drama of the modern era. I highly recommend reading the play to anyone who enjoys theatre, seeing the mini-series for anybody who enjoys film and if you get a chance to see a live production of either Part One, Part Two or the entire 7-hour experience, I suggest you don’t hesitate.
*The Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com)
*The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)
*Tony Kushner’s Angels in America published by the Theatre Communications Group Inc.
*A speaking at Emerson College by Oskar Eustits, first-time director of Angels in America and close friend of Tony Kushner.