Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
“Angels in America” is a play about New Yorkers stricken with AIDS, traumatized Mormons in the 1980s, and is considered one of the greatest American plays of the 20th century. It has very expansive themes ranging from: hope to hypocrisy, power to pain, American idealism to shameful American acts. And it is a message that the personal is always political (nothing is private). But even though Kushner was writing a decade before debt swallowed American homes, before the wars of the following decade, before 9/11 cast its pall, the play is perhaps one thing above all else. As the night nurse Belize shrewdly observes: In life, the really big stuff does indeed come along. Usually when your guard is down. And when it does, you always find out the consequences of your previous decisions of trust.
Great productions of “Angels in America,” a work that is both an undeniably huge and spectacular undertaking, and they contain a collection of the most intimate scenes imaginable. These scenes offer a quiet, truthful revelation of our most private moments, the scenes of love, sex, friendship, agonizing disappointments and hard deaths, the things that maybe one other person sees. And they come with the equally crucial understanding that the raging, coursing, unimaginably awesome universe is made up of nothing but such moments.
I think this play is important for Utah audiences, not only because it holds a agenda that Utah has been battling for decades now, but because it offers a chance to look inside the lives of particular individuals that are experiencing very differing things than the Utah norm. “Angels in America” addresses the Mormon community specifically and instead of criticizing the decisions of Mormon Church leaders, it shows what many homosexual Mormons are going through.
In response to the frank treatment of homosexuality and AIDS, (and brief male nudity) the play quickly became subject to controversial reaction from conservative and religious groups, sometimes labeled as being part of the “culture war.” In Charlotte North Carolina in 1996, there were protests held outside a production of the play by the theater company Charlotte Repertory Theater that was at the Booth Theater. This led to funding cuts for the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte, the city’s arts funding agency, in the following year.
It’s no wonder that “Angels in America” is considered one of the best plays of the twentieth century. It is full of subject matter that is relevant today. Especially for us living in such a hostile environment towards this subject. Personally my mother told me not to watch the HBO production of this when I wanted to rent it at the video store. When I asked why, she told me that it was a movie that was trying to push specific agendas, and that it would only confuse me. While I am still an active Mormon, I found it very enlightening to learn about the culture and the pain that homosexuals (if they even define themselves as such) undergo to finding themselves.