Angels in America (TLC)


Artifact: Angel wings (Adult fitting) similar to those used in the play Angels in America.

Actual piece is seen below

Soulpepper, Angels of America

Angels in America is an epic play; in two parts: Part I – Millennium Approaches, Part II – Perestroika, playwright Tony Kushner spans the history of the 20th century, from the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, to McCarthyism in USA in 1950s,to the collapse of communism in 1990, all wrapped around the HIV/Aids crisis in 1980s, and the convoluted lives of gay people.

                Angels in America, well that was some play alright. It was pleasurable to dive into a 20th century piece, and I had never read a play that had Mormon characters in it. I was curious as to how this play was received by audiences, and what spurred this plot line. As with any edgy play with a conceptual script the reviews were mixed.

Incredibly, Angels in America won numerous awards throughout its run. This included the 1993 and 1994 Tony awards for best play. The play gathered its praise based on its dialogue and its assessment of social disputes. In fact the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Kushner has written the most thrilling American play in years.” Ten years later the play was still receiving praise. Metro Weekly labeled it “one of the most important pieces of theater to come out of the late 20th century.”

However not all viewers were in agreement as to the brilliance of the show. Luis Siegel, (A cultural critic who has won national magazine awards for his reviews) claimed, “Angels in America is a second-rate play written by a second-rate playwright who happens to be gay, and because he has written a play about being gay, and about AIDS, no one—and I mean no one—is going to call Angels in America the overwrought, coarse, posturing, formulaic mess that it is.” The play was ridiculed by others for its blunt homosexuality, discussion of AIDS, and its brief male nudity. Many conservative and religious groups did not approve. In 1996 protests were held in front of the Charlotte Repertory Theatre in North Carolina. This ultimately led to cuts in the city’s funding agency that supported the arts the following year. These were just a few examples of the criticism the show received.

After reading about these mixed reviews, I couldn’t help but think of the play Rent which received the same mixed reactions. It premiered around 1996, so about the same time as Angels in America. It was in the 1980’s that the world witnessed an outbreak in HIV largely in gay communities although it soon emerged in populations all over the world. The epidemic was scary and foreign to these populations and no single ethnicity felt its implications any more than anyone else.  That’s why Angels in America encompasses varying faiths and ethnicities, much like Rent. The characters in Kushner’s piece are Mormons and Jews, black and white, conniving and gullible. Put simply Kushner makes them “human” with faults and worries all their own.

I have seen plenty of “edgy” performances in my time; everything between Rock of Ages and Tim Rogar’s Senior Project. I appreciate that theatre can be as diverse as movies. A live audience does not stop people from discussing harsh realities. Sometimes those harsh realities come at the risk that some audiences may find the show distasteful. It is for that reason I choose not to ever see The Book of Mormon. No matter your opinion on Angels in America; it is a play that will always be remembered.


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