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Angels in America
by Tony Kushner


Amazon.com
Tony Kushner's Angels in America is that rare entity: a work for the stage that is profoundly moving yet very funny, highly theatrical yet steeped in traditional literary values, and most of all deeply American in its attitudes and political concerns. In two full-length plays--Millennium Approaches and Perestroika--Kushner tells the story of a handful of people trying to make sense of the world. Prior is a man living with AIDS whose lover Louis has left him and become involved with Joe, an ex-Mormon and political conservative whose wife, Harper, is slowly having a nervous breakdown. These stories are contrasted with that of Roy Cohn (a fictional re-creation of the infamous American conservative ideologue who died of AIDS in 1986) and his attempts to remain in the closet while trying to find some sort of personal salvation in his beliefs.
      But such a summary does not do justice to Kushner's grand plan, which mixes magical realism with political speeches, high comedy with painful tragedy, and stitches it all together with a daring sense of irony and a moral vision that demands respect and attention. On one level, the play is an indictment of the government led by Ronald Reagan, from the blatant disregard for the AIDS crisis to the flagrant political corruption. But beneath the acute sense of political and moral outrage lies a meditation on what it means to live and die--of AIDS, or anything else--in a society that cares less and less about human life and basic decency. The play's breadth and internal drive is matched by its beautiful writing and unbridled compassion. Winner of two Tony Awards and the 1991 Pulitzer.

From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 02:29 PM This is still swirling around in my head. Someone please start the discussion of the play. Sherry
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 03:32 PM I’ll start with my impression of the angel. PERESTROIKA sure brought on an unconventional angel. The angel’s message was inane and she was sexual. Now there’s two departures from the expected. This subversion of the Judeo-Christian angelic role caused me to regard the angel as Prior’s creation. As Hannah said to Prior: it is from you. Perhaps the angel was prompted by Prior’s AIDS dementia, or a fever dream, but it was still “the threshold of revelation.” At least to Prior; it was meaningful to his process. I can understand how he could feel that God had left heaven, had abandoned humanity. And I can understand how Prior would be terrorized by the appearance of a Heavenly host. A potential fear for a gay man who grew up in the Christian tradition is that an angel would denounce him for being homosexual, as was frequently done from the pulpit. But Prior was beyond that; instead he came up with an angelic message so inexplicable that it necessitated further inquiry: to climb up to heaven and wrangle with the bureaucrats. In essence, to rewrite his own cosmology. Actually, I think it’s a valuable thing to do, to rework one’s belief system about the large questions of life. And if it takes being on the brink of death to do it, so be it. Don’t you think it’s tragic if we just accept our tradition without transforming it according to our own experience and inclinations? Even if we come to the same conclusions as what we were taught. However, most likely the process will result in an adaptation, a customization, even a complete transformation. And as far as I’m concerned, nothing needs overhauling more than the current planetary traditions that seek to explain the meaning of life. Talk about letting us down! So, I’m all for wrestling with my angel. Robt
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 04:24 PM The sexual reaction to the angel put me in mind of art depicting visitations by angels. Some of them are undeniably sexual looking. I'm thinking especially of Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa. It appears to be akin to a very earthly kind of ecstasy. Ruth
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 05:30 PM Interesting observations Robt and Ruth. The angel acted in a sexual way not only with Prior but also with Hannah, Joe's sexually uptight Mom. I was glad you called the Angel's message inane, Robt, because it didn't mean much to me. The "God is dead" part is familiar, but that was about it. Ann
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 05:31 PM All quibbling aside, I agree with Robt that this is the best thing I've ever seen on TV.
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 07:38 PM I think that it's worthwhile pursuing this question of the reason for the sexuality of the angels for a bit. I found it kind of intriguing and liked it, but I'm wondering what Kushner's reasons were. Do you think that it was the gender mixing, the idea that everyone was of both genders prior to the creation of human beings? We became very rigid in our culture about who can be sexual partners and, from a procreation standpoint, I can understand how that might have been necessary at one point. However, at this point in our overpopulated world, that factor has been eliminated. Also, the point seemed to be that sexuality was so basic to everything. In the HBO play, I loved that moment when the angel noticed Hannah. I wasn't able to get the NPR interview to play on my computer. Did Kushner address this point in it? Barb
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 08:40 PM Thanks for the image of the Bernini sculpture, Ruth. I had forgotten about this linkage of angels with sex. St. Teresa sure looks to be in the throes of physical pleasure, despite her body being almost completely covered. In my tradition, there was a distinct separation between spirituality and sexuality. Of course, there was the blessing of monogamous marriage, but the sexual aspect was rarely acknowledged, since sexuality was not a suitable topic for discussion unless it was being denounced. Worship was always very non-sexual. Bible stories were presented as pure and clean, even when sexual content was inherent in the story. I was taught that God destroyed two cities because the men of Sodom came onto visiting angels. How inappropriate. So, the scenes of Prior and Hannah having orgasms with the angel have a definite shock value. I think that’s what Kushner was going for. He wanted to disorient us; blow out our fuses; attack us with surprise and open us up to a new idea of angels and what they mean. Robt
From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 09:43 PM Kushner seems to tackle a lot in this play. We have not only the huge problems of AIS and homophobia, we also have the McCarthyism of Roy Cohn. That whole era is frightening as well as fascinating. I loved it when Ethel Rosenberg attended Cohn's disbarment hearing. I am wondering why Kushner picked the Mormon church as the adversary of the gay population. I know that there are many other churches that are homophobic. Jane
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 01:03 AM So much to discuss. I like the interchange between Prior and Harper in MILLENNIUM APPROACHES Act One, Scene 7. Prior is in a dream (in drag) and Harper is having a pill induced hallucination and they are sharing their insights and telling each other important things on the “threshold of revelation.” This rings true to me as outrageous as that sounds. About nine years ago I was diagnosed with AIDS which was still before the advent of protease inhibitors and other antiviral drugs other than AZT. Although AZT (Roy Cohn’s precious drug) is held out as the only medical hope in AIA, it proved to be an inadequate medication by itself. AZT often prolonged life but most people with AIDS who took it still deteriorated and died. Everyone I knew who had taken AZT died, so I refused to take it. Ironically, I now take AZT twice a day, but in combination with other antiviral drugs. So, for about a year and a quarter, before other medications became available, I fought for my life with multiple bouts of opportunistic infections (pneumonia, meningitis) and was hospitalized seven times, each time hovering near death since my immune system was all but destroyed. I had six T cells; the normal level is about 1200. That meant a lot of time lying in a hospital bed, often with a high fever and many times with drug reactions and allergies which affected my mind. I never experienced dementia associated with an infection, but I experienced something akin to it. These experiences took the form of life reviews. It would start as a memory which was exceptionally vivid, like watching a movie version of an episode in my past, and the movie would play and I was the captive audience. These memories, which played out of sequence, could be quite long, very detailed and I would lose myself in them. The difference from my usual propensity towards reverie was that I no longer had editorial control. The episodes included my selfishness, my mistakes, my folly, in addition to my better moments that I had already played out in my mind who knows how many times. I wept frequently during these experiences. Before it was difficult for me to cry; at this point I was weeping freely, sometimes without any provocation. The experiences were painful, riveting, and strangely exquisite. Years later, the experiences hold up as truthful. They are helpful for rebuilding a life I didn’t expect to have. Medical breakthroughs happened and here I am. The “threshold of revelation” is a phrase that I respond to. Robt
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 01:21 AM Do you think the (for want of a better word) unreality of this play is an attempt to capture the kind of experiences you had, Robt? R
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 07:18 AM Robert, thanks for your insights and experiences. What I think is the best thing about the play is that it is so complex. Ideas are intermingled and emotions wrung from unexpected sources. The saying of the Kaddish is a good example. Roy Cohn is dying. He's a bad, bad man. The ghost of someone who hated his guts gives the words (words I cannot understand the meaning of) of a ritual of a religion (that I know very little about) to another person who hates his guts. This ritual moves me immensely. I think this is the essence of the play. Things that I do not understand move me. People can heal each other by breaking through barriers of hate by being generous. By taking a leap. In the NPR interview, Kushner said that one of the things that gave him the idea for the play was the death of Roy Cohn. Kushner's father had told him about the McCarthy hearings and Cohn's career was one that he knew a great deal about. When Cohn died, people were so virulent about him, that Kushner actually felt sorry for him--a man who's career was the antithesis of everything he believed in. In the play Kushner certainly didn't portray Cohn with any sympathy, but our feelings about his death and the implications (mysterious, though they are) of the unknown words of peace that Louis called up from the depths, are very cathartic. Sherry
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 09:29 AM Robt, We are all so thankful that you are still here with us. I appreciate your sharing your experiences with us. I have heard that life review is very common when people believe they are dying, but it sounds like in your case it was particularly vivid, due to the drugs. I'm afraid when I get to that point, I will worry about how I messed up. It's nice to read that you also remembered what you had done right. I grew up Catholic, not in a fundamentalist tradition, but I think everyone is aware of all the sexual hang-ups old style Catholicism imposed on young people. Although I finally overcame most of that early conditioning (in the process rejecting religion itself, I'm afraid), it still makes me very uncomfortable to see angels and humans having sex on stage. Sherry is right. Kushner did it for the shock value. From his interview, I learned that he is not a believer himself. I do think that the message of this play is the importance of forgiveness, which Belize expresses so well after Cohn dies.
From: Jean Keating jbkeating@cox.net Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 09:36 AM Robert, Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have no illness that I know of, but I regularly have dreams associated with some guilts or feelings of inadequacy that I must subconsciously harbor. I can imagine somewhat, how terrifying your ones induced by illness must have been. Jean K.
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 10:48 AM Ruth, I definitely think that Kushner uses “unreality” (fantasy, dreams, hallucinations, visions, etc.) to great and appropriate effect in this play, and that he captures the kind of experiences I had, as well as experiences had by many people dying of AIDS. This could be expanded to anyone with a life threatening illness, but it is particularly pertinent to AIDS since the syndrome often includes high fevers, drug reactions and dementia from various opportunistic infections. Thank you Sherry, Ann and Jean for your comments. Robt
From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 12:25 PM In "A Note to the Actors and Directors" for PERESTROIKA, Kushner says: . . the problems the characters face are finally among the hardest problems - how to let go of the past, how to change and lose with grace, how to keep going in the face of overwhelming suffering. It shouldn't be easy. For me, this best summarizes what happens in the play. The characters achieve answers, but the answers are inherently, intrinsically personal and cannot be spelled out in maxims for us except, perhaps, . . . pres The fat is in the fire, the die is cast, the jig is up, the goose is cooked, the cat is out of the bag, and my hour has struck.
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 08:02 PM I really like that, Pres. Ann
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 10:45 PM Great quote, Pres. Some thoughts on Jane’s question: why did Kushner choose Mormons? He could have chosen a fundamentalist background for the Pitt family —say Jerry Falwell Baptist—but I think Mormonism is an even better choice. Mormons are an American phenomenon, whose leader, Joseph Smith, claimed to be visited and inspired by an Angel. Mormons are officially opposed to homosexuality, are politically conservative, have a controversial history of polygamy and a strongly defined sense of community and identity. It’s a vivid heritage for dramatic purposes. I like the image of Joe Pitt’s Morman underwear as a physical manifestation of his beliefs, like a second skin, something that’s with him everyday. And when he pleads with Louis on the wintery beach, he is desperate to shed his past and strip himself of his old life, including his symbolic underwear. Joe’s conflict between honoring his heritage or honoring the truth about himself was painfully real to me and something I could identify with deeply. I am grateful that I never married, and I narrowly escaped that choice. I had to become a “bad Christian” in order to come out as gay; and then realize that I didn’t need to be a bad anything, but just be honest. Truth became more important to me than tradition. How unfortunate to have to choose between the two. I feel very sympathetic to Joe’s dilemma. He was a tragic character, and I know several men like him. Robt
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 10:49 PM Robt, we are so lucky to have you here to share your well-written insights with us. Thank you. Ruth
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 12:30 AM Thank you, Ruth. Robt
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 07:39 AM Me, too, Robert. I know what you mean by having to be a "bad Christian" to be honest, and finally deciding that it really isn't "bad" at all. That doesn't only apply to homosexuality. It applies to any emotional truth that conflicts with the "norm". I know only too well how I can't be honest and share my relatives' beliefs. Sherry
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 09:15 AM Sherry, What works so well in the play is that the issue of homosexuality is really just a metaphor for a universal dilemma: reconciling our own beliefs and identity with our tradition and family. I think a great deal of personal evolution—and social progress, for that matter—is on the level of belief. What we believe ends up defining us and shaping our behavior. It’s an act of courage for anyone to believe something different than what s/he has been taught and then become public about it. But how else can we evolve? This challenge is a theme of AIA. Take Hannah, for instance. Her first reaction to Joe’s wee-hour phone call confession is every gay son’s nightmare: denial, “let’s just forget this phone call ever happened,” and then slam goes the receiver. But Hannah does not behave according to expectation, nor does she fit her demographic profile as Prior points out. She realizes that there is a crisis with Joe and Harper and she sells her house and moves to NYC. Surprisingly, this Mormon mother has the greatest transformation of all the characters in the play. Instead of being an intractable dogmatist as a cynical liberal would expect, her love transcends her tradition of strict role playing. I think her sex scene with the angel is symbolic of this. Hannah is courageous enough to befriend gay people—look at her in the last scene at Prior’s birthday gathering—and I don’t think she even has to renounce her Mormonism. It seems to me that she adjusts certain of her beliefs to expand on the positive aspects of her tradition. I’m reading into this my own interpretation, so I’d appreciate any feedback about Hannah. But, I see Hannah as the great triumph of the play. Joe is an unknown at the end. He could go either way. Robt
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 09:38 AM Robt, I'm glad you brought up Hannah. Maybe I'm way off base here, and tell me if I am, but do you think that Kushner was suggesting that Hannah was a repressed lesbian? She had several lines where she made some very disparaging comments about men, and there was that sexual scene with the angel. Maybe he was just saying that she had been repressed in general. She was definitely a good person at heart, as was shown by her willingness to take Prior, whom she didn't even know, to the hospital and stay with him. In that final scene, she looked like she had been through a makeover. Was her improved appearance symbolic of her changed inner life? And was it significant that her son Joe wasn't in that final scene of reconciliation? Did he just continue his life of lies and bad politics? Ann
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 01:27 PM Great thread, folks. And Robt, one of the many things I'm thankful for this time of year is that your voice is among us here on CR. You write of Hannah, Her love transcends her tradition of strict role playing...and I don’t think she even has to renounce her Mormonism. It seems to me that she adjusts certain of her beliefs to expand on the positive aspects of her tradition. A few decades ago, that might have been just a nice warm thought, but these days I'm convinced that "adjusting our beliefs" without abandoning the good parts is the only hope for the survival of a world that seems intent on dividing and conquering one another. As for the sex-and-angels in AIA, I think it's partly Kushner's intent, as others have said here, to shock us out of our traditional assumptions, but there's also a deeper connection, I believe. I once heard a lecture by Scott Peck about the constant thread of sexuality/eroticism in the writing of Christian mystics, both nuns and monks, throughout the centuries. One image that I particularly remember is an 18th century nun who writes, "Lord, fill me with the battering ram of Thy Love!" There were lots of other intense examples. As for Prior's being chosen as a prophet...while his new theology might be a personal one, I think that's true to some extent of prophets throughout history. And while we admire them in retrospect, we need to remember that they greatly went against the grain of their society and time. They were pretty much a disheveled, rag-tag bunch who didn't always make smooth and coherent presentations. The more straight-laced listeners considered them psychotic, which may indeed have been an element of their visions. (By the way, in AIA, I loved Hannah's exasperated remark to the homeless woman on the street who she's trying to get directions from: "Look, I'm sorry you're psychotic. But could you please just get it together and focus?" The plaint of many a conservative, for sure.) In the larger context, I'm coming to find out more and more how today's Christian orthodoxy doesn't date from the time of Christ, but from some time around the 4th century A.D. when there was a drastic ideological purge by the mainstream church establishment that resulted in the editing of many sacred texts and the elimination of others. Entire denominations were destroyed, some of them based on direct word-of-mouth tradition from people who were alive when Jesus was. In fact, today's guest on NPR's "Fresh Air" is a professor who's written a series of books about just this subject. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 02:44 PM Could the sexuality of the angels be Kushner's way of telling us that sex is good in all varieties? R
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 02:51 PM By golly, Ruth, I think you've battering-rammed directly to the core message here. {G} >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 05:50 PM Dale, I know you're right about the sexual component in mysticism, and Catholic nuns in general are supposed to be the "brides of Christ." Ann
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 06:03 PM By the way, here's the link to the interview with religion professor Bart Ehrman, author of Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. I thought he covered some fascinating stuff: http://freshair.npr.org/day_fa.jhtml;jsessionid=FRSJZT4KFY1K3LA5AINSFEY?todayDate=current >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 10:19 PM Robt, I am very thankful that you are still with us. Thank you for telling us of your experiences. I am very much enjoying this discussion. All of you have had so many thoughtful insights. I can hardly wait to see the play now that I have read it. Like Sherry, I disagree with my family's view of homosexuality, prayer in school, etc. We have agreed to disagree. Jane
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, December 18, 2003 07:55 AM Ann, you mentioned that you thought maybe Hannah was lesbian because of her reaction to the Angel and her comment about men ("they're so ... stupid"). In Kushner's cosmology angels were not male or female, even though this angel looked female, they were supposed to have eight of everything. I think the sexual energy of the angel broke through Hannah's rigidity ("The body is the garden of the soul"). My sense was that her exasperation with men may have had to do with the kind of men she was familiar with. She is a "get it done" type of woman, who says she has no pity. Well, what she had was a lot more useful than pity, don't you think? Jane, my family and I haven't agreed to disagree. They don't agree with me and haven't agreed to disagree, since to them there's one true way. I just avoid all conversation about anything like that. Sherry
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, December 18, 2003 08:55 AM Thanks, Sherry, for your comments. That makes sense. Several people have indicated they weren't sure if Emma Thompson pulled off the portrayal of the angel. Do you think its because of the way the part was written or was it just Thompson's interpretation? I'm particularly interested in the opinion of anyone who may have seen this play performed elsewhere. How did the other actors do in this part? Ann
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, December 18, 2003 01:44 PM For some reason, Thompson's interpretation of the angel worked fine for me, Ann. I thought Kushner wrote her as a creature who was beautiful, regal, and with fearsome powers, but down deep was a mid-level human functionary just trying to do a difficult job. To me, Thompson's acting caught that mix of grandeur and uncertainty. I'd be very interested to hear of how different stage actors approached the role, though. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 06:47 AM It's been a long time since I saw it on stage, and the angel's performance doesn't stand out for me. She had a strong beautiful voice and she was very calm. I think what may have not worked in Thompson's favor was that we are so familiar with her. Had Nichols used a young, totally unfamiliar actor who was new and strange to us, we may have been more "surprised" by her appearance. For me, seeing Emma Thompson playing an angel, no matter how well she does it, is just that--Emma Thompson playing an angel. Sherry
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 01:20 PM That is an interesting point, Sherry, especially as I kept thinking of Jessica Lange's angel in All That Jazz when AIA's angel was on screen. It even occurred to me that her being new to me at the time was a bonus. Watching it these days, it looks like Jessica Lange playing an angel. I have just this morning finished watching Part 2 of the movie, and I haven't read the play. Although I got it months ago and it sits on the shelf behind me, I'm in a really good book right now and can't read anything else until it is finished. Still, since it looks like the discussion here is mostly in regard to the movie, I'll venture in. About Hannah: I must say I loved this character too, and not only because it was Meryl Streep. Interesting there are various theories about the reason for her negative attitude toward men; I had a different one altogether. I wondered if her husband's absence was because he was also homosexual. That would leave a lot of emotional residue for her to cope with. About her transformation in the last scene, my immediate assumption was that she was no longer Mormon. Mormons don't wear make-up, and she clearly did during that postscript. Al Pacino has never been better. I've always been more lukewarm about him than most other people, but he really inhabited the role of Roy Cohn- I can't imagine anybody doing a better job ever. I loved Belize, I want to know him. Mostly I want him to be my nurse if I'm ever seriously ill. Or really, just anytime I might need to be in a hospital. Tonya
From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 02:08 PM Good stuff, Tonya. pres The fat is in the fire, the die is cast, the jig is up, the goose is cooked, the cat is out of the bag, and my hour has struck.
From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 02:13 PM Sherry says ~ It's been a long time since I saw it on stage, and the angel's performance doesn't stand out for me. And I say the same, about the last time I saw Angels. And a copy of both parts of the TV performance, taped by a friend, is on its way to me. pres The fat is in the fire, the die is cast, the jig is up, the goose is cooked, the cat is out of the bag, and my hour has struck.
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 02:19 PM After reading the play one of my first reactions was that if I were an actor I would kill to get the role of Belize. What a plum. R
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 02:25 PM Thank you Dale and Jane. Tonya, I also think Al Pacino was great as Roy Cohn. Pres, I wish I had seen this as a stage play. I’ve got a friend who much preferred the Broadway play to the HBO movie. Robt
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 03:22 PM Tonya, My sentiments exactly about Belize. Ann
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 03:32 PM Amen, Ann & Tonya. Belize reigns, for sure. What casting; what an actor. Do I remember that the Belize in Nichols' film is the same guy who did the role on Broadway? I love the quote when he's putting in Cohn's IV..."I can do it so that you think you were born with it, or..." >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 03:50 PM Yes, Jeffrey Wright won a Tony for his performance of Belize in Part II. He is great. Tom loved the HBO play, but thought he enjoyed his experience of seeing it in a theater more. I'm on the fence. Of course, I didn't see it on Broadway. Sherry
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Friday, December 19, 2003 05:37 PM Jeffrey Wright was also terrific in the title role of the self destructive artist in BASQUIAT. His portrayal of Belize was inspiring. Robt
From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, December 21, 2003 09:42 PM Tonya, As I have mentioned a couple of times, I have a number of Mormon students in my classes. Mormons look just like all of the other kids. The girls wear make up, are cheerleaders, wear short and tight clothes, and drink caffinated drinks. The only reason I know that they are Mormons is because they come and tell me. Jane
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, December 28, 2003 09:56 AM Due to an attack of the flu just before Christmas, I missed continuing to participate in this discussion at the time, but have learned a lot just now reading your comments. Robt, I particularly want to thank you for contributing your insights. They expanded my understanding enormously. This play, both read and watched on HBO, may be one of the major experiences of 2003 for me. The characters and the lines keep popping into my head and causing me to ruminate again over them. And, the character of Belize is at the top of that list. Jeffery Wright has the art of bringing that to the viewer at maximum strength. However, I felt that about the character as I read the play before I saw it performed. Belize is absolute truth and pragmatism but is able to give the Cohn character the care he would give anyone else. And, in the end, he is able to give him some level of forgiveness which facilitates Ethel Rosenberg's forgiveness as well. I've been continually struck by the Rosenberg character's desire to get rid of her hate which is still haunting her in the afterlife. Only Belize's gesture is able to move her toward that point. Barb
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Sunday, December 28, 2003 12:17 PM Thank you, Barb. I think Belize was the soul of the play. Robt
From: Jean Keating jbkeating@cox.net Date: Sunday, December 28, 2003 03:01 PM I just finished Part II of AIA and thank you Tonya for sending it on to me. I'll be at the post office tomorrow morning to send it to Ruth. I like part I better than the second tape, but it was still memorable. As has been mentioned, Belize is wonderful--what a role for this fine actor! Some of the speeches were rather long, but the outstanding acting made it all worthwhile, as well as the very moving story. Jean K.
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, December 28, 2003 05:00 PM Judging by Part I only, the actor playing Belize played him much more controlled and even than I pictured him reading the play. From the text, he seemed larger than life, and I expected him to be played that way. Still, Belize is one of drama's most memorable characters. R
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, December 28, 2003 06:37 PM Wright was very subtle in conveying Belize's personality, wasn't he, Ruth? He could have really "flamed" (as a gay friend of mine used to say) with this character but his take was much more effective, I thought. Barb
From: Jean Keating jbkeating@cox.net Date: Sunday, December 28, 2003 09:06 PM One of my favorite parts of Part II was the ending showing the complete transformation of Merle Streep from a frump to a very attractive, stylish woman. I loved her friendship with the three gay men. I do not think Streep's role was that of a lesbian. We are given hints that her marriage was not that great and I think her bitterness toward men stemmed from that. Jean K.
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 02:01 AM I just finished watching Part II (thanks, Jean). On Emma Thompson's angel. It seemed she was hamming it up, but I thought for a purpose. She was showing us exactly how silly our ideas of angels and their pronouncements can be. One thing I'd like to address is that Kushner specifically directs that the nurse and the angel be played by the same actor, and the same with Ethel Rosenberg and Mrs. Pitt. Where do you think he was going with this? I can see some rational with nurse=angel, but that comparison's been made so many times before that I can't believe that's the only point Kushner was making. And what of Ethel/Pitt? R
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 07:50 AM Kushner also said for the doctor to be played by the actor who played Hannah, but in the movie they let James Cromwell do it. The only reason I can come up with, Ruth, is that Kushner's play is about the unexpected. How assumptions about people don't work, conservative gays? Tolerant Mormons? By mixing up the actors playing the parts, the actor has to use a different parts of himself. The play-goer also has to let go of a lot of assumptions by allowing the same actor to become other people in his mind. So maybe the combination of actors playing roles isn't as important as the very fact that we're asked to make more leaps of faith than normal. Sherry
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 08:13 AM I'm glad you brought that up, Ruth. I meant to ask that question while I was reading it. Your answer makes sense, Sherry. However, I liked the idea that the actor who played Hannah was the same as the one who played Ethel and the Rabbi. It seemed that they were all searching for something similar, the ability to forgive, perhaps, or a resolution? You know, I just realized that, in the movie of Millenium Approaches, they left out that part in Salt Lake City in which Hannah is talking to her real estate agent friend. It worked, but Kushner says that MA is more closely edited than Perestroika and doesn't given any recommendations for editing. He must've thought it was important initially. Barb
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 10:30 AM Sherry, I like your answer, too. Robt
From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 01:12 PM The only reason I can come up with, Ruth, is that Kushner's play is about the unexpected. How assumptions about people don't work, conservative gays? Tolerant Mormons? By mixing up the actors playing the parts, the actor has to use a different parts of himself. The play-goer also has to let go of a lot of assumptions by allowing the same actor to become other people in his mind. ~ Sherry RIGHT ON! A perception I hadn't reached for myself, but that clearly explains something that I had dismissed as a quirk of the author. In fact, the idea explains much of the quirkiness of the play. I hope there is going to be more discussion of the play as a reading experience and the whole business of reading plays, particularly without having seen a performance. pres The fat is in the fire, the die is cast, the jig is up, the goose is cooked, the cat is out of the bag, and my hour has struck.
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 01:46 PM I think you're right, Sherry. And you, too, Pres. Kushner hits the whole business of assumptions square between the eyes. However, I'm still wondering if there aren't specific connections between the characters he had played by the same actors. Why combine those two in particular? As for the reading vs seeing. The play I saw in my head when I was reading was vastly different visually from the one on TV. In his staging notes Kushner said that the play benefited from "pared down" staging and sets, and that's the way I saw it. Absolutely minimal. During the scenes where two things were going on at once, I truly saw these two things on the stage at once, in separate areas, cutting in and overlaying each other. TV did this as separate cuts, which worked, but removed some of the deep connectedness I felt while reading. Also I felt that the reality of the scenes made the supernatural incursions a little less believable. All that bricks and mortar falling from the ceiling, etc. I'd like to see this on the stage, done to K's original ideas. R
From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 02:41 PM Good observations, Ruth. About actors playing multiple roles as designated by the playwright: If it is "dislocation" that is sought and the actor convincingly plays the character without embellishments, then you realize "dislocation" only after you check the program. "Unravelling" the character during the performance maybe what Kushner intended, but it seems bad practice to me. An aside on this subject: We have two long time Jewish friends, one on the East Coast and the other in the Southwest. Both were from Jewish families and steeped in Jewish culture, but as adults only practiced the religion on occasion. Both were academics. They both actively disliked the TV performance of AIA, mostly, we think, because of the fact that the rabbi was played by a woman. About pared down staging: On the occasions when I've seen the play on the stage it has had pared down staging. Pared down staging works, and I thought the opening out in the TV performance was a bad mistake. The action of the play is tighter and more intense if you're not admiring the lights of New York City or wondering about the furnishing of Prior's apartment. The play is simultaneously nitty-gritty real and surreal and belongs better in a a set without references to anything but the action of the moment. The original production of the play at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco had the character of the warehouse theater where it was presented to an audience on hard bleacher seats. pres The fat is in the fire, the die is cast, the jig is up, the goose is cooked, the cat is out of the bag, and my hour has struck.
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 03:20 PM Another note on those multiple role actors. I hadn't realized the rabbi was included. Which leads me to another observation. In a stage play, there wouldn't be time to have the complete makeup transformation that was used in the TV film, therefore the doubling of roles would have been much more obvious. As it was, even tho I knew there was supposed to be this doubling of roles, I missed the rabbi completely, only got the Ethel/Hannah connection late, and didn't pick up on the Angel/Nurse until well into the 2nd film. R
From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Thursday, January 01, 2004 05:10 AM The doubling of roles is also an indication of serious economic problems in the theatre. Each actor added to the performance is also added to the payroll. This is becoming more and more evident when the theatre season is set. A lot of the theatrical choices reflect the need for a minimum payroll and you almost never see a play with a large cast anymore. EDD
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, January 01, 2004 07:56 AM That's a very practical observation, Edd. I know that happens a lot. But somehow, I think Kushner used that practice to his advantage in setting up this play. Also, another practical aspect (in the TV version anyway, since money didn't seem to be any kind of object) is that for him to attract big stars, he had to give them more to do. I loved the TV version, but I know what you mean, Ruth. Some of the special effects worked in reverse. They made it look more real, but made it seem less believable. In the play(s) I saw in Milwaukee, the set was pared down. The scenes that were together, were really together, and the effect was stunning. What was really stunning was when the angel first appeared. Prior was on a bare set lying in bed. Out of nothing, from above came a beautiful luminous angel, with the most soothing spectacular voice. She just came down from the top of the stage and hovered above his bed. The End. Having the lushness of the angel juxtaposed to the starkness of the set, was wonderful. Sherry
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, January 01, 2004 08:06 AM I've been giving some thought to the combination of actors in their roles. Rabbi/Hannah/Ethel/Doctor. Seekers of truth? Givers of advice? Givers of secrets? Nurse/Derelict/Angel. The nurse/angel seems obvious, but if you think about the context of what the angel really wanted, she wasn't giving comfort (unless you count the sex) but was asking something from Prior. She wanted mankind to stop. That's not so comforting. The derelict was psychotic--an opposite of comfort, but maybe a mirror. I always look at street people and try to imagine myself in their place. It's a scary exercise. So maybe that combination of actors in their roles was a statement about levels of comfort in your skin. Sherry
From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Thursday, January 29, 2004 01:24 PM This has been a stunning topic to catchup on...lots of amazing insights. Sherry said:By mixing up the actors playing the parts, the actor has to use a different parts of himself. The play-goer also has to let go of a lot of assumptions by allowing the same actor to become other people in his mind. I think there is a lot to that...I am not sure it matters exactly why the WRITER used the same actors...but the result offers many things to an audience. I was thinking that it aids in watching "compassion" by one body playing different roles with different motives it is like watching compassion for each other or friction for each other. I am having a difficult time putting words to this thought, sorry. The other thing...is that it offers a chance for audience to feel that we are players...and our free choice is as powerful if not more powerful than the concept(burden) of destiny/environment. You can choose to look at things from another perspective. Our emotions and actions can be examined and then our acts can respond by that examination. In a literal way...a person could be "the nurse" or choose "the angel" not just their roles but their attitudes. We can choose how we behave in life...we can choose our ethics, for example if we are rabbis...or mormons...we can choose our roles or reject our roles... Hannah seems to reject her role by end of play, no? And adopt a new one...? Pres, you wondered about reading plays and not seeing them performed before hand. I read a lot of plays and very rarely see them performed in comparison to how many I read. I love reading plays as I find it easy to start and imagine people alive and acting them out and the sets are in my head...
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Saturday, January 31, 2004 12:32 PM On 1/29/2004 1:24:00 PM, Candy Minx wrote: >This has been a stunning topic >to catchup on...lots of >amazing insights. > I am in agreement with that Candy -- and not least of it was reading your own insights into the matters of choice which are presented to the reader/or audience as this play unfolds. I think seeing these dual roles as facets of a personality works for me. It's also about the influence of experience and the realization that perhaps those to whom we yield authority over our lives send us in a wrong direction as often as not. We can form our own thinking though it is frequently an uphill battle when others want the status quo maintained. Strong reading -- I had read the play through twice before viewing this and think that informed my response to the dual performances. This lingers and I think it will continue to resonate. I'd be happy to see us continue to explore reading plays as it is something I have gotten away from doing though I love it. I've read far more plays than I've seen performed in theaters though I've seen film versions of many others. I find I get more from reading them ahead of the viewing -- perhaps because I stage my own version in my mind first. Dottie
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Saturday, January 31, 2004 01:49 PM Dottie writes, It's also about the influence of experience, and the realization that perhaps those to whom we yield authority over our lives send us in a wrong direction as often as not. We can form our own thinking though it is frequently an uphill battle when others want the status quo maintained. By golly, you said a mouthful, Dottie. I believe that the viciousness of status-quo-maintainers waxes and wanes throughout history, and unfortunately those enforcers' power seems right now to be waxing greater, and faster, than at any point in my lifetime. I think the trend started as a reaction against the intellectual freedom of the 1960s (and the inescapable craziness and chaos of such a time) but is snowballing under its own power to a frightening extent. One tiny example...this week in our local paper's Letters to the Editor, someone suggested that for a nation whose current administration calls itself Christian, America is badly failing at Christ's commandment to care for the poor. A couple of days later came a reply accusing the first letter-writer of being a Socialist. Sigh. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, January 31, 2004 06:46 PM Dale, I just don't get these right wing "Christians." Ann

 
Tony Kushner
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