I started reading the play "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes" a couple of weeks ago after hearing Professor Bonilla mention it in class. I remembered a couple of years ago, that HBO aired an adaptation of his epic play "Angels in America", as a miniseries starring Emma Thompson, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep. Before I watch it, I decided, I would read the play.
Looking at the recent list of modern American authors to read, for the "Book Review of an Outside Author" option, I saw that Tony Kushner was on it. I decided that if this whole blog thing doesn't work out for some reason, or if I had too many missing entries like last semester, I would do the book review of "Angels in America" for the Possibilities section of the class requirement. Even if I get all of the points, I figure that I'll do both, just for insurance purposes.
The play is broken up into two parts, and I just read the first half entitled "Millennium Approaches". For lack of better words, and because my vocabulary is made up of cliches from film critics, it is stunning! A tour-de-force! Breath-taking! ...It is very good. I don't want to start my review too early, because I'll save that for the final product, but I just want to record my initial reactions.
It touches on history, politics, religion, racism, gay struggles, the AIDS epidemic, the Reagan administration, social paranoia, and everything America. A lot of the issues that we have dealt with in class, and some of the ripples and after effects of the time period. Kushner play continues the reflection, angst, and social commentary that appears in the works of James Baldwin and other contemporary American writers. The social paranoia Baldwin describes of American society--"American writers do not have a fixed society to describe. The only society they know is one in which nothing is fixed and in which the individual must fight for his identity... tradition does not exist in America."--is represented here in a character's conclusion of the current country's state of being: “Maybe we are free. To do whatever. Children of the new morning, criminal minds. Selfish and greedy and loveless and blind. Reagan’s children. You’re scared. So am I. Everybody is in the land of the free. God help us all”. The social paranoia, for lack of a fixed society, has led to where it is naturally heading: fear in a chaotic world, where it is only the illusion of order that keeps it turning. In a time (of Reagan's reign) where it's every-man-for-himself, the gay community so afflicted by the AIDS epidemic have nobody to reach out to. Kushner is describing an America that is selfish and heartless, and a society that is able to tolerate it. It fits in with the tradition of contemporary American writers trying to find out what is really happening here.
The character of Louis, who is gay and Jewish, comments on the reality of America, and tries to reveal a truth of society that is masked by one of the myths of America. "I think is that AIDS shows us is the limits of tolerance, that it’s not enough to be tolerated, because when the shit hits the fan you find out how much tolerance is worth. Nothing. And underneath all the tolerance is intense, passionate hatred.” This idea can be likened to Ellison's Invisible Man, and just about any other racist or prejudiced belief that is suppressed: That beneath the layer of tolerance is a hatred for other human beings. Tolerance is a nice curtain we hide behind, the way a racist person claims to be colorblind as a way to ignore his feelings in hopes that they will go away. One can only lie in denial for so long... until the proverbial shit hits the fan.
The play is filled with dramatic moments that when read, pack a powerful punch on paper, but the true humanizing moments only become realized when performed. The main character's words "Why poor poor me? Oh I don't feel good right now. I really don't" suddenly become actual pain when read aloud and acted. This device fits into Eliot's requirement to make old feelings seem new by presenting them in different ways. It belongs in the canon of American Literature because it follows the tradition of non-tradition, of making [the old] new.