28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Plays are difficult things to read. It is rare to find a play that is widely read outside of classroom assignments. We have become so accustomed to the narrative form that it can be discombobulating to read stage directions, set descriptions, and stark lines of characters with little sense of the nuance of delivery, the emotion behind the words. Of course, we also have to thank Mr. William Shakespeare for scaring most people away from reading plays in play form. Great that the Bard is, many people look back on their school assignments of reading with a certain amount of angst. Play form is difficult enough, but surely Shakespeare could be translated into English!
`Angels in America, Pt. 1: Millennium Approaches' is, linguistically speaking, a much more accessible play. But it still suffers (as perhaps all plays must) from the lack of description beyond the words. In this regard, plays are very much more like poetry - they tend to latch on to single elements rather than taking the fuller form of narrative, and leave the rest to the imagination of the reader.
Tony Kushner's play is imaginative. Like great playwrights of old, he takes contemporary situations and figures and embellishes them, keeping faith with the overall meanings in society and the overall characters he's using, but is careful to make it known that this is a work of fiction.
We begin the play, staged (we are told) in the barest of scenery with a minimum of scene shifting and no black-outs - imagine, if you will, almost a stream of consciousness as the play progress - there is a funeral. A Jewish funeral. Not an unusual scene in New York, but the Rabbi doesn't know the woman, and so gives generic funereal orations.
Scene shifts to the office of Roy Cohn (alas, an all too real figure, but this is, Kushner emphasises, a fictional account). Here we encounter the high-powered, high-strung Cohn in his glorious best (or worst) while Joe (a conservative Mormon lawyer) is being chatted up for a job, which would put him in Cohn's debt.
Scene shifts - we see Joe's wife Harper planning a trip with a travel agent, Mr. Lies.
And so forth - in the course of this tale, we meet several people who are in various stages of AIDS. This is the meaning of the play. We encounter out gays and closeted gays, poor gays and rich gays, and the occasional straight suffering person, too. Often we have scene shifts and double scenes with two sets of action going on simultaneously. The moral issues of life with AIDS (which, as it happens, often reflect the moral issues of life more generally) are played out in political, social and religious terms.
Take, for instance, Louis, who attends the funeral (conducted by the Rabbi), who is contemplating leaving his lover Prior, who has started to show symptoms. The interplay between Louis and the Rabbi shows differing ideas not only between religions but also within religions toward difficulties.
Later, Cohn launches into an extended tale to his doctor of how he couldn't possibly be a homosexual:
`This is what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not understand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men. But really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who now nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout. Does this sound like me?'
Ultimately, denial is deep with Cohn.
Doctor: You have AIDS, Roy.
Cohn: No, Henry, no. AIDS is what homosexuals have. I have liver cancer.
Ultimately, issues of drug access, relationship building and deterioration, and the overall morality of life is played out among the characters. Perhaps the image of Ethel Rosenberg, who appears to Cohn in one of his weakened delusional states, says it best:
History is about to crack wide open. Millennium approaches.
The play concludes as an Angel makes a traumatic entry at the end (the cracking open that Rosenberg mentions, perhaps?) appearing to Prior, after we have witnessed Prior's now ex-lover Louis making a connection with our conservative Mormon lawyer Joe.
There is a message. We the audience are not told what it is.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 1999
A Humanization Tony Kushner's Angels in America skillfully presents genuine heartaches: loss, addiction, love, sexuality, and sickness. The play contrasts searches for integrity with complete denials of the self and releases a sense of authentic frustration. Kushner provides fascinating characters with realistic strengths and flaws. Courageously standing in the face of stereotypes, he embraces the development of individuals. Joe's identity becomes clear as he allows himself to develop into a more truthful person. Roy, on the other hand, continues to build walls hiding who he really is.
Kushner not only brilliantly captures real personalities while dealing with fantasy, but also relates them to the complicated, sometimes heartless world in which they exist. He poignantly addresses the loneliness and loss that is living, but does so with a sharp humor that keeps the pages rapidly turning. Angels in America is an incredible dramatic masterpiece that challenges a transformation of the soul into a true reflection of who we really are.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Tony Kushner's "Angels in America: Millenium Approaches" is as close as you can come right now to reviewing the recent six-hour HBO special directed by Mike Nichols. That was set as two three-hour pieces, playing on back-to-back weekends. The first weekend was the complete three-act 'Millenium Approaches'; the second was Kushner's follow-up, 'Perestroika.'
'Millenium Approaches' won a Pulitzer for Kushner, and it's easy to see why. It's an amazingly literate discourse and masterful interweaving of three strands of gay life in America as it stood before triple therapy arrived and slowed down the impact of AIDS.
By contrast, 'Perestroika' feels different and distant - lots of soliloquies, extreme anger, archsymbolism - I felt like the high point of the six-hour spread was the angel's dramatic appearance at the end of 'Millenium.'
Remembering back to the play, I think all the actors in Nichols adaptation really found new levels for each of their characters. For example, Pacino nailed Roy Cohn's perverse sense of logic: homosexuals (and you can hear the quotes around it when Pacino utters the word) have no power; I have power; I am not a homosexual; therefore, I do not have AIDS, I have liver cancer. I've read Cohn's biography and this is truly the way he saw things. Kushner has him nailed & Pacino really captures the essence of Kushner's words.
The other thing worth noting is that Mary-Louise Parker does wonders with the role of Harper Pitt. I remember thinking of the character as overwhelmed on stage (compared to the other actors), but, wow, does she stand out in Nichols' adaptation. It's the best performance in the film, in my eyes.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 1999
Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning Book, "Angels in America," was a non-stop, adventure story through the lives of many very interesting people! Like most humans, who have a pulse, I enjoy getting involved in other peoples lives, without them knowing it. It is exciting when I accidently pick up someone's phone conversation when I am using a portable phone, should I hang up? or should I listen? I had the same feeling when I read "Angels in America", I almost felt guilty as I read because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. It was like watching a soap opera, I became ingulfed in the drama. Kushner kept my mind wondering on what was on the horizon by craftly switching back from one scene to another, but at the same time he did not let me think to long. Personally, being a white, hetrosexual male, I do not experience racism, sexism, or any descrimination first hand, (at least I don't think so)but I do see it all around me. Kushner drops the reader into the minds of many different characters, such as; homosexuals, AIDS infected individuals, black drag queens, corrupt politicans, mormans, and crazies to name a few. By doing this Kushner reaches all the readers no matter what their past experiences are, and puts everyone at an even level. This even level is of the view point of the characters. After reading these different personalities and "living" with these characters through "Angels in America", the reader understands their struggle for every day existence. In conclusion, I think that reading this book has enlighted me and I would reccomend it to everyone! (over eighteen of course) "Angels in America" is truly a great piece of American literature and shows the struggle for Americans to fullfill there dreams, and the nightmares that sometimes occur in the process.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 1999
After reading both volumes of the play, Angels in America, I was left as a reader both confused and amazed. The sheer confusion I speak of comes from reading on my own and not having any idea what some of the conversations between characters were meant to have revealed. This play however has a certain brilliance that stems from its pure ability to captivate its audience through the use of coy imagery and explicit emotion. Aside from this, the topic of homosexuality, which is already a touchy subject in the world today, does not make the play any easier to read. The character of Joe, a straight heterosexual male, or so we are lead to believe, is found married to his valium addict wife who is yearning for sexual satisfaction. As book one progresses, we soon learn of Joes homosexual tendencies which quite strangely come as a revelation to his wife during a drug induced hallucination with another of the plays prime homosexual males, Prior. Building upon the weakness of Joes character, who is ultimately unable to make a decision whether or not he wants to actually make something of himself in life, the relationship between he and Harper (his soon to be estranged spouse) quickly begins to evaporate. At the same time on the other end of the spectrum, we find two males caught in a turbulent relationship, both of which not knowing exactly what they want. Prior, one of the men, is stricken with what is said to be AIDS and is dying very quickly. Louis, the other fellow, who happens to be in the relationship with Prior becomes frightened by what he sees, and although he thinks in his heart that he loves and he believes he is in fact loved, for some reason unknown to us, he just cannot manage to face the situation. The interjection of minor characters here and there as well the esteemed lawyer Roy Cohn, who also at this time has contracted AIDS but claims to be a heterosexual who has a deadly form of cancer (he certainly wouldn't have fooled me) enters the picture as perhaps a person the dishevled Joe can possibly open up to. As the second part of Angels in America begins to unfold, we soon learn this to be true. The parts of this play that confused me were mostly in Perestroika, as I had a little trouble understanding some of the dialogue and its direction in accordance with the rest of the story. Prior's experience with the Angel leads him to believe he is a prophet which also was a part that I was a bit puzzled about. Nevertheless, Angels in America was certainly a different type of play that what I thought it would be, although it did have some graphic detail that I can openly say I would have rather not read, it did also have an immense sense of humor which inevitably played the part of bringing everything down to earth. This play showed how difficult it was and would have been for a person struggling to cope with the early disease of AIDS in the late 80's without any knowledge of its patterns or capabilities. Utlimately, however, I can say that i did in fact get something from this play, and that is it made me for the first time believe and perhaps even ponder on my own that cruelty exists not only in the heterosexual world but also can be magnified many times by a disease as lethal as AIDS.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 1999
Angels in America holds a mirror up to your face and forces you to look into it and concentrate on what is looking back at you. What looks back at you in the case of this book is something you are afraid of or something you never wanted to deal with but now are forced to. Some of these fears may include AIDS, homosexuality, or even contact with angels. It is a very complex piece of work which encompases a wide range of situations that all relate to each other. One can learn a great deal about themselves by the way in which they react to the events occuring in Angels in America. This book provides helpful insights on people percieved as being "different" and shows the reader that they have the same problems as everyone else, and maybe even more complex problems because of how they are percieved. Hopefully the reader can take the knowledge they aquire from this piece of literature and keep it in mind when they are confronted with a situation similar to the ones in Angels in America. No one deserves to be discriminated against for any reason and Angels in America does an excellant job of showing the reader that those people know they are looked at differently and feel as if there is nothing they can do to change that perception. It is our responsibility as a fellow human being to help those in need, because as Angels in America shows us, everyone needs a friend.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2003
I read both installments of Angels in America when I was a senior in high school. I bet I was the only student in my school who has even heard of it. This is a pinnacle of American drama and Kushner is taking it to levels of the highest theatricality. To me, this play is reminiscent of Williams, O'Neill, with hints of Beckett's absurdity, Marquez's magical realism, Lorca's passion, and Larry Kramer's themes. It is impossible to due these plays justice by comparing them to those of their predecessors-it is a masterpiece all its own. Using the recurrent theme in modern drama-homosexuality-Angels brings home many issues that we face as a human family. Rumors have it that HBO is filming both plays as a movie or mini-series, and I can't wait for everyone to be able to experience the two Tony award and Pulitzer winning art of Tony Kushner that I will never forget.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 1999
Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning work, Angels In America, is a monumental masterpiece. Angels In America is a deep imaginative work which transcends from earth into Heaven; while focusing on various issues such as AIDS, sex, politics, and religion. In the two full-length plays, Millenium Approaches and Perestroika, Kushner illustrates highly imaginative, expressionistic-surrealistic techniques that tell a story of people trying to not only find meaning within the world, but also to find meaning within their lives. Prior is a man who is not only deteriorating due to the fact that he has AIDS, but also because his lover Louis abandoned him. Through his hallucinative encounters with his ancestors and angels; Prior will come to the realization that even when death is evident, if you have hope, you have life. Louis, Prior's ex-lover, becomes involved with Joe, an ex-Mormon, who decided to come out of the closet when his wife, Harper, who has a mild Valium addiction, is slowly having a nervous breakdown. Then there is Roy Cohn, a successful New York lawyer, who desperately tries to conceal his homosexuality and AIDS because he believes that only heterosexual men, not homosexual men, can have high power and clout.
All in all, Kushner wrote an astonishing American play that emphasizes the issues of our time. Issues like AIDS and homosexuality that were blatantly disregarded during the Reagan years, prohibited among religious beliefs, and looked down upon by society as a whole. Moreover, the play transcends deeper than these issues alone. There is a realistic sense of wanting to find meaning in life, to come to the realization that we should not be shameful for who we are, or what we do, also that we are wonderful creatures who deserve the blessing of more life!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 1999
Tony Kushner's Angels in America skillfully presents genuine American tragedies through drug-induced hallucinations and dreams as well as other fantasy and actual events. Kushner deals with intense emotions that arise from loss, addiction, love, sexuality, and sickness. Joe, a clerk for an influential New York city judge, has hidden part of himself while married to Harper, a fearful woman addicted to antidepressant medication. Eventually, no longer able to deny his desires, Joe succumbs to a risky relationship that solidifies who he is.
Angels in America courageously stands in the face of stereotypes and embraces individual development. Joe is first an apologetic, passive businessman and husband. His identity becomes clear as he allows himself to develop into a more truthful person. Roy, on the other hand, is a stubborn, arrogant, mean-spirited lawyer. As his illness worsens, he continues to build walls hiding who he really is. Refreshingly, Kushner provides fascinating characters with realistic strengths and flaws.
Kushner not only brilliantly captures real personalities while dealing with fantasy, but also relates them to the complicated, sometimes heartless world in which they exist. He poignantly addresses the loneliness and loss that is living, but does so with a sharp humor that keeps the pages rapidly turning. Angels in America is an incredible dramatic masterpiece that challenges both American ideals and one's own soul.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 1999
Angels in America holds a mirror up to your face and forces you to look into it and concentrate on what is looking back at you. What looks back at you in the case of this book is something you might afraid of or something you never wanted to deal with but now are forced to. Some of these fears may include AIDS, homosexuality, or even contact with angels. It is a very complex piece of work which encompasses a wide range of situations that all relate to each other. One can learn a great deal about themselves by the way in which they, the reader, react to the events occurring in Angels in America. This book provides helpful insights on people who are perceived as being "different" and shows the reader that they have the same problems as everyone else, and maybe even more complex problems because of how they are perceived. Hopefully the reader can take the knowledge they acquire from this piece of literature and keep it in mind when they are confronted with a situation similar to the ones in Angels in America. No one deserves to be discriminated against for any reason and Angels in America does an excellent job of showing the reader that those people know they are looked at differently and feel as if there is nothing they can do to change that perception. It is our responsibility as a fellow human being to help those in need, because as Angels in America shows us, everyone needs a friend.