As someone who quite literally worships Tony Kushner and sees Angels in America as a foundational text in my life as a writer and a reader, this piece about how plays with gay themes are deliberately getting less political kind of makes me sad, even as I understand the motivations behind it:
“I think we have a better chance of attracting straight and gay audience members with universal emotions, like love and loyalty, that touch the lives of these gay men and show how we are all equal, rather than do it through polarizing arguments,” said Richard Willis, one of the lead producers of “Next Fall,” which began previews on Tuesday.
I guess there’s an extent to which I think it’s really deeply unfortunate to reduce Angels to this kind of framework, or to treat the two plays that make up Angels as if they are confined to a class with anyone else’s work (I said worship. I didn’t lie.). I tend to think the overlooked genius of Angels in America is not necessarily as a gay polemic, but that it gives gayness a place in the pantheon of great American tsuris. Jewishness plays as much of a role in Angels in America as gayness does, I tend to think, and the play’s description of ethnic Jewish grievance and grieving is so powerful it brings Ethel Rosenberg literally back from the dead to haunt Roy Cohn in his final days. Lewis, one of the main characters, brings himself out of a crisis precipitated by his partner Prior’s AIDS diagnosis and his cowardly decision to leave Prior, by saying the Mourner’s Kaddish for Cohn.
And Jewishness isn’t the only major alternative identity conflict in Angels: there’s Mormonism, women’s sexual emancipation, and blackness. Gayness is a proud and equal part of this pantheon, but the message of the play is that history might be ending, and we are all, gay or straight, black, white, Jewish, Mormon, male, female, communist and capitalist in for a world of trouble.