B y J a n a R i v e r a
PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER is not content to simply record the horrors of AIDS. Angels in America is a serious, unwavering drama about gay love. It's a warm, humorous commentary on our responsibility as caretakers. It's religious and irreverent. It's a piece of political activism; a homily on the dwindling of community during the self-indulgent Reagan years and a weak glimmer of hope for the future. It's a seven-hour epic. It's highly controversial and widely acclaimed. It takes every topic usually reserved for off-Broadway and shoves it into mainstream theater. It's the winner of a Pulitzer Prize and two Tony Awards for best play. And it's Ken Foster's pick to kick off the new season at Centennial Hall.
This will be UA's first season with Foster at the play-picking helm. So why start with such a controversial play that's sure to offend the easily offendable? Why unleash Kushner's unruly force right off the bat? Why not take some time to get to know us first?
"Without question, it is the most important play of the decade and maybe the most important play of the last 25 years," Foster says. "It would be irresponsible of us, as a university presenter in particular, not to do it. The issues it raises, the themes it deals with, the portrait of America it presents and forces us to wrestle with, is an important one.
"If we don't wrestle with these issues," Foster says, "we risk moving into the 21st century with some sort of misguided sense of who we are and what we're about."
Foster believes the play's power comes from several levels--a human level that might scare you a little when you see yourself in the characters, and a metaphorical and philosophical level that will force you to contemplate your role in today's "better-to-be-effective-than-nice" society.
Angels in America is shown in two parts, each three-and-a-half hours long--Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika. "Part One is about despair," Kushner said in a 1992 interview with Vogue magazine. "Part Two therefore must be about hope, but I think we're in terrible, terrible trouble. Our hope may simply be, as Prior (a character in the play) says, an addiction to being alive."
Angels in America concentrates on two couples--Prior, a gay man who develops AIDS and Louis, his lover who deserts him as he's dying; and Joe and Harper, a Mormon, heterosexual couple dealing with Joe's homosexuality. In the middle of the two fictional couples, Kushner plops a bit of history and his most pivotal character: Roy Cohn, power broker, homosexual, homophobe, and Joe McCarthy's trusted assistant.
One of Kushner's most powerful scenes is between Roy Cohn and the doctor who has just diagnosed him with AIDS. Cohn informs the doctor he has liver cancer (a claim he took to his death bed) because to have AIDS might imply he's gay and being gay would imply he's weak and powerless.
"Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men," Cohn tells his doctor. "Homosexuals are men who in 15 years of trying cannot get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through city council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout...Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who fucks around with guys."
Angels in America, says Foster, is sure to test your assumptions and provoke questions about what we're up to as a society, and where we're going.
"It is a play about us--human beings--trying in our own way to do the best we can to work through what is an extraordinary time," he says. "In that sense, it's a work that had to be seen, it had to be heard, and we are the absolutely right place and people to do it."
Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches will be performed at 7:30 p.m. September 21, 8 p.m. September 22 and 2 p.m. September 23. Part II: Perestroika will be performed at 8 p.m. September 23, and at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. September 24. For the ultimate Angels experience, see both parts Saturday, September 23, with buffet dinner and conversation alfresco on the Arizona State Museum terrace. All performances are in Centennial Hall on the UA campus. Call 621-3341 for reservations and information.
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