Pulitzer Prize winning play by American playwright Tony Kushner. The play is subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes". The play is in two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. The complex play treats such themes as AIDS, religion, conservatism and racism in America. Characters include historical figures Roy Cohn and Ethel Rosenberg.

As per Node you homework

The Assignment (Paraphrased): After reading Tony Kushner's Angels In America, Part I analyze a theme within the play as it pertains to the staged version which you will be seeing as it is presented by campus.

Easier Seen than Read - A Play Review of Angels In America

The growing concern of AIDS during the 1980's was certainly one which the general public tended to ignore as a legitimate dilemma. This ignorance was further exacerbated by the government in the United States, which seemed to disregard the epidemic. During a time in which things were supposed to be looking up for the American people, AIDS would certainly have proved itself detrimental to the good of the nation. And hence Reagan and his administration could not afford to bring such controversial issues into the light. Thus, the gay community most affected by AIDS was struck with having to fight the battle of death alone. This theme is thoroughly addressed in Angels In America Part I: Millennium Approaches, a play by Tony Kushner. Although overcoming the fear of death brought about by AIDS, as a theme, may be successfully found through analysis of the actual text of the play, there are some aspects which must be witnessed in person to fully grasp. Through the use of sights and sounds in the stage produced version of Angels in America, the central theme is drawn upon through the utilization of the senses.

Sight is one of the essential elements of the staged performance, without a background set, costumes, and props this play might have failed to convey its intended meaning. The first challenge in the production was to get the audience to feel that they were living in the 1980's. This aspect was successfully achieved through the use of two elements. The first was a timeline of events surrounding the stage, which presented facts about AIDS that were discovered during each of the years, starting from its discovery. Not only did this help fabricate the time of the play, but it also gave some outside background info on the progression of the virus. The second element used to form a distinct 1980's set was a trashcan which the woman in the Bronx was standing near when Hannah Pritt asked for directions to the city. The smoldering, graffiti-covered, Bronx-style barrel symbolized the fact that the national way of life during this time was not the great entity it was so often portrayed to be, emphasizing that poverty was another main concern that had to be dealt with. In a way it conveyed that in conjunction with avoiding the AIDS epidemic, the United States government was also avoiding the issue of poverty. Through setting up a stage which felt distinctly from the 1980's the audience could begin to life through the first-hand accounts of AIDS and it's spread across America.

Throughout the production color changes reflect the mood, and parallels can be seen between the shift in color and the shift from moods of sorrow and hope. For many of the initial scenes there were distinct color schemes meant to be drab and generally opaque. One prevalent example of such colors is presented in the costumes of the main characters. From the very start of the play, in which we are introduced to the Rabbi, we see a dark suit that foreshadows that the play is not going to be light-hearted. This foreshadowing is further emphasized by the set colors. The color of black and dark maroon, represented by the stage itself and the sheets of the bed, respectively, are often associated with depression. Although not exactly the most obvious of ways to strengthen the theme, the colors do subconsciously present the sorrow of the effect of AIDS on the characters. An interesting switch in color choice occurs during the hallucination scenes, particularly when Harper goes on her mental trip to Antarctica. In this we see her wrapped in joyous and rather pure colors of white and light blue. Although this may seem to condone drug use, we can see through the character development that it is only the illusion of happiness, an artificial high induced through Valium. The true joy occurs only at the very conclusion of the play in which Prior is visited by the Angel. Here we see bright shining colors obviously meant to invoke hope for the future. This spiritual situation shifts the story from fear to hope.

The auditory senses are an equally important aspect of the stage production, and the interpretations of the director were a key component of successfully conveying the theme. When it came to the musical choices, the interpretations of the director once again transported the audience into the era that was the 80's. Through the poppy tunes and disco beats of 80's styled songs such as "It's Raining Men", the audience more easily grasped what the characters were feeling. Another influential musical aspect was that of the final scene in which the play does not specifically designate a specific song to play, but merely states, "there is a great triumphal music, heralding" (118). The choice of the director was to use a sort of full out orchestral symphony as the angel appeared; which made the audience once again realize that the play was about a renewed hope for the future.

The voices and accents used by the actors in the play were the final element used to convey the theme of overcoming the sorrow of death brought about by AIDS. From the very beginning in which the rabbi is speaking at the funeral, we realize that although there are light hearted jokes, the main theme of the play is going to be deeper than mere jest. The Jewish beliefs brought up in this opening scene help to later justify Louis's departure from Prior, during a time of most sorrow. Yet this sorrow is calmed through the voice of the angel, whose words help comfort Prior in his time of greatest need. Through the portrayal of the angel's voice in the scenes in which it is talking to Prior, the audience themselves are also comforted to the fact that things in the end are probably going to be alright. In the same way that the visual aspects convey the switch between sadness and optimism, the audio components also show this renewed hope for the upcoming millennium.

Angels In America is a fantastical play that addresses the crucial theme of AIDS during the 1980's; and even though it was written years after the events it describes, still successfully conveys the importance of such an issue even today. And although this same theme can be sought out through analysis of the script itself, it takes a produced stage version to portray some of the more subtle details of the story. With the combination of sights and sounds the play takes on new shape and is certainly much more entertaining and moving.

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 and Perestroika 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, homosexuality, addiction, 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 on neo-conservatism, homosexuality, religion and God, 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.

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