Angels in America (subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes) is a Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play written by Tony Kushner. It is presented in two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, each of which runs roughly three hours long. The two parts premiered in California in 1991 and 1992, respectively, and were produced on Broadway together in 1993.The play is set in New York City from the fall of 1985 into spring of 1986, during the rise of AIDS awareness, and focuses on an enormous variety of topics, from politics to religion to dysfunctional families. The main story line follows a young gay man named Prior Walter, who has just discovered he is HIV-positive. After subsequently being abandoned by his lover Louis, he receives a vision from Heaven, in which an Angel visits him. She tells him that Heaven once was a paradise, but that human progress creates "earthquakes" in Heaven and after a particularly severe one, God abandoned them. She compels him to go out into the world and tell his fellow humans to stop moving forward, so that God may return.The play is one of the most celebrated theatrical works of the 20th century, and a crucial piece of American theatre in particular, as the title would suggest. Both parts won back-to-back Tony awards and Drama Desk awards for Best Play, and the first was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Since its enormous success on Broadway, it has been adapted into a Mini Series and an Opera. It merited inclusion as the last entry in Harold Bloom's highly controversial list of what he considered the greatest works of literature in his book The Western Canon.Tony Kushner specifically notes in the published versions of the script that any and all fantasy elements of the story should be performed as such, as full theatrical special effects. As such, between this and the play's sheer length and complexity, mounting a production is an incredibly daunting task, and productions are few and far between for a play of its notoriety.The cast of the original New York City production in 1992 and 1993:
Ron Liebman as Roy Cohn et. al.
David Marshall Grant as Joe Pitt et. al.
Marcia Gay Harden as Harper Pitt et. al.
Jeffrey Wright as Belize et. al.
Joe Mantello as Louis Ironson et. al.
Stephen Spinella as Prior Walter et. al.
Kathleen Chalfant as Hannah Pitt et. al.
Ellen McLaughlin as The Angel et. al.
A Mini Series based on the play aired on HBO in 2003, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman, Emma Thompson, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Mary-Louise Parker, Patrick Wilson, and original cast member Jeffrey Wright. It went on to surpass Roots for most Emmys won by a program in a single year.This play also has a character sheet.
Trope examples include:
Adaptation Distillation: Kushner himself, as writer of the Mini Series, cut a good deal of material from the Perestroika segments, most of it unnecessary, and most of it Kushner recommends to be cut on stage as well (if time is an issue) in the published script.
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Joe is closeted political conservative, sure, but he's also a bit of a woobie. Then he abandons his wife hallucinating around New York only for her to be bailed out and taken in by his timely-arriving mother, and eventually, Louis after some legal library work reveals him not just to be closeted and nominally socially conservative, but to be an evil Rules Lawyer.
Bury Your Gays: Averted. Though funerals are shown (or alluded to) for Prior, Louis, and Belize's friends who've died of AIDS, the only one of the main gay cast to die is the morally reprehensible (and deeply closeted) Roy Cohn.
Determinator: Prior becomes this, both in his fight with AIDS and with the Angel of America, who gives up more out of annoyance than defeat.
Due to the Dead: Belize insists that Louis say the Kaddish for Roy. Louis agrees, but follows it up with "You son of a bitch."
Even Evil Has Standards: Joe pulls this card when Roy Cohn casually confesses to him about how he broke every single rule that a lawyer is supposed to abide by in ensuring that Ethel Rosenberg was executed.
Faking the Dead: Roy pulls this trick on the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who pushes the nurse's call button and starts rejoicing—only to have Roy spring back to life and gloat at it having worked. Subverted when the monitors he's hooked up to then flatline, and he dies for real, in a very violent fashion.
Prior 1: So? Be gay, dance in your altogether for all I care, what's that to do with not having children?
Prior: Gay homosexual, not bonny, blithe and...Never Mind.
Have You Seen My God?: After he is chosen as a prophet by the Angel of America, Prior learns that God abandoned Heaven on the day of the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake. The Angels, who believe it was because humanity was more interesting, want Prior to tell humanity to stop moving, in the hopes that God will then become bored and return home.
Historical-Domain Character: Roy. Except for the ghostly visions, the portrayal of the last year of Roy Cohn's life is pretty accurate.
The Immodest Orgasm: In the miniseries, the angel's hair catches on fire during "plasma orgasmada".
Large Ham: Roy Cohn, especially Al Pacino's portrayal in the HBO version.
Loads and Loads of Roles: The play is written for a cast of eight to perform. It is rather symbolic, particularly when, say, the man who Louis hires to have sex with him in Central Park is played by Prior's actor. Lampshaded when Prior wakes up after having returned the book of Prophecy to Heaven. See And You Were There above.
Mistaken for Gay: Subverted. When Joe walks in on Louis crying in the courthouse bathroom, Louis, after some dialogue between the two, comes to the conclusion that Joe is gay. Subverted in that he's right, but Joe is a member of the LDS Church, and is thus deeply closeted.
Never Trust a Trailer: The Sky Atlantic trailer does this, but only a little bit, by suggesting that the Angel is coming for everyone rather than just Prior.
Rules Lawyer: Joe is the evil sort - "It's law not justice, it's power not the merits of its exercise..."
Shout-Out: The play makes several references to The Wizard of Oz. In addition to "And You Were There" (see above), Prior also says "people come and go so quickly here" after Harper vanishes in their mutual dream scene, and he, Belize, and the Angel say "If you cannot find your desire in your own backyard, you never lost it to begin with" in Act 2 of Perestroika. Belize and Prior also both quote A Streetcar Named Desire: in Millennium Approaches, Belize says "Stella for star," while in Perestroika, Prior says Blance DuBois' famous line "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
The Mini Series has a huge shout out to Jean Cocteau's 1946 live-action film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast in the beginning of Prior's dream scene with Hannah. The arms holding candelabras and the the silent moving statue of Prior by the fireplace is copied almost shot-for-shot from Belle's first entry to the Beast's castle.
Spirit Advisor: A few. Prior has his ancestors (two of the previous Prior Walters) as the Heralds of the Angel of America; Ethel Rosenberg subverts this somewhat with Roy Cohn, then plays it straight with Louis.
Really, she seems to just possess Louis for a few seconds to say a prayer for the dead. Louis is afterwards surprised.
Stairway to Heaven: Prior ascends a burning ladder into heaven in the last act of Perestroika
Strawman Political: Most Republicans in the play. It's not very strong, but they're almost universally shown to be selfish and concerned only with their own power. Roy Cohn, the Gay Conservative stands out.
However, it is also worth noting that while Louis is, in the end, a sympathetic character, one of his most annoying qualities is his self-righteous liberal philosophizing.
Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Upon learning he has AIDS, Roy Cohn uses his connections to be forced into the experimental trials of AZT. When he finds out that it's a double blind study (and that he might be getting placebos), he uses his connections to secure himself a massive private stash of the drug.
Title Drop: In one of Louis' ramblings, he says "There are no angels in America", in reference to the fact that the US does not have a single spiritual tradition due to its nature as a "melting pot".
"Millennium Approaches" and "Perestroika" also get their own title drops in their respective plays. The first is said by Ethel Rosenberg while taunting Roy, and the second by Louis when discussing the fall of the Berlin Wall in the last scene.
Transparent Closet: Roy gives a rather twistedly brilliant speech to the doctor who diagnoses him with AIDS, redefining "homosexuality" as a class defined by its lack of political power, which no one would accuse Roy of not having.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Joe is the only main character left out of the epilogue (except Roy since he was dead). However, this probably has to due with the fact that he wasn't meant to be as sympathetic as he was portrayed in the miniseries, although since Kushner wrote both of them, he may have tried to fix that a little with Joe's extra scene near the end in the miniseries.