Tony Kushner wrote his groundbreaking play, Angels in America, in the early nineties. However, the play takes place in the mid eighties, in New York City at a time when AIDS was causing enough deaths for the public to sit up and take notice.
This is not another just another sad play written to provoke emotion from an audience about a specific cause, although it certainly does that. Kushner admits in his Afterward that the health issues his characters face are reflections of his struggle with helping a close friend after she was in a serious car accident. Kushner also weaves into the story the importance of his identity as a man who is Jewish and gay.
What sets Angels apart from other plays documenting real events and people is the use of spectacle and magic. Many people diagnosed with life threatening diseases, like the character Prior, curse at the heavens and demand answers. The audience watches as Prior’s lover, Louis, leaves him because he is unable to face the drastic mortality of AIDS. His terrifying journey begins, and he is unsure of whether he is hallucinating or actually being visited by an Angel and named as a prophet. In part two he climbs a ladder to heaves and gets his answer.
When Prior is given the option to succumb to his disease or live, he demands to be blessed with “More life.” His bravery in embracing a life that is bloody and scary but wonderful is an undeniable message from the playwright. Life is not fair, but its all we’ve got. Kushner paints an honest and dark mural of the city across his stage. No one is perfect, but with the actors all playing several roles, the world is a community of people doing what they have to get as much life as possible.
The use of Roy Cohn keeps the play grounded in reality in the midst of angles, talking mannequins, ghosts and disappearing travel agents. Despite being mythical creatures, these characters are the most honest in the play; Kushner uses them to show us what it really means to be human.
In the opening scene of Angels, a group of rabbis sit and discuss life, by the end of the play the main characters have lived and learned enough to take their place, they gather under a statue of an angle doing what is most important for everyone: living.