What's it about.
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia is a two-part play written by Tony Kushner that tackles political corruption, religion, AIDS - among other STILL relevant themes - through the lives of a group of people living in New York City in the mid 1980's.
Seven total hours of theatre in a span of two days. One whole hour of intermissions. An hour and a half commute in a blizzard. Oh the theatre, the things I do for thee!
Let me be honest and say the idea of seeing a two-part play sounds more fun than it really is. I don't think I will ever choose to see a show of this length again. While it was enjoyable and a new experience for me, it was not one that I'd want to repeat.
For part two, I went in feeling like I was watching a television show and the next episode was about to come on. I already knew the characters, their situations/circumstances, personalities, etc. I knew them enough to go into part two with attachments to specific characters and distaste for others.
This part confused the CRAP out of me. I sat there for the first two hours thinking, 'what the actual hell is going on?! Is this real? A dream? How are living people seeing eachother in visions? What the actual hell is this angel even saying?!' I was getting borderline frustrated at myself for not coming into this better prepared. A good chunk of part two felt so metaphorical that a little bit of Sparknotes assistance before hand might have helped me out a little bit.
Though I was confused for 99% of this part, once I was able to let go of my desire to understand everything, I started to actually allow myself to look past the obvious and just start looking at the hearts of the characters and what I believe the playwright was trying to get me to take away. I came to the conclusion that most of these characters are just painfully unhappy. Those who can be happy are fighting it. I thought, 'am I missing something? My heart keeps clinging to the fantasy of it but I keep feeling like I'm missing the pain behind the character's circumstances.' For example, Prior is dying from AIDS, but because his character is naturally pretty funny, I wasn't able to feel as sad for his situation despite its severity. Separate from the dreams, 'prophecies' and hallucinations, each one of these characters are experiencing tremendous physical and emotional pain. Am I not seeing it behind the set shifts and fantastical elements?
The two characters that stood out to me the most in both parts, but particularly part two, was Belize and Roy Cohn. While everyone in the play is dealing with their own issues, Belize and Roy offer a perspective on what clear good and bad moral looks like. Belize's character to me was the only one who we didn't get to see too much of his personal story but we can see how he handled friendship with people who look different than him and even very blatant racism against him. Roy is a horrible person but he stands ground on his lack of morals. There's nothing gray about either of these characters and I loved how they intertwined in the lives of the other characters - the rest of them struggling so much with the gray areas of their faith, beliefs and morals.
I did have some issues with the way God and parents were portrayed in this play. One day, I hope to see a play that depicts God the way that I see Him. In this play, He's described as abandoning His angels and leaving them and the people of Earth to struggle without Him. On the contrary, I believe God is always present and He's a good Father. My heart breaks at the idea that people would really believe that He would just abandon those He loves while they suffer. I also had a HUGE issue with Joseph's mother because she was so willing to stand by Prior in his time of need but did next to nothing to help Joseph with his own struggle with his religion and sexuality.
The last scene was a beautiful image of what our country should look like now: we see a Black man, Mormon mother, Jewish intellect and Anglo-Sax homosexual all mingling in the park having polite debate about something. It was a beautiful glimpse of where our country is now and where I hope we continue to head. No matter our religion, political view or sexual identity, we can all live in harmony and love one another. We don't need to agree, just love.
Despite all the theatrics of this show and the confusion I felt, my takeaway is simple. There are no angels in America. There are no angels anywhere except Heaven. You can keep looking, you can keep wishing it were you or your President or your spouse. Here on Planet Earth, we're all much too flawed and much too broken to be angels - no matter how morally good we think we are.
Tell us about your experience.
In the comments below.