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Angels in America Tony Kushner.

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1 Angels in America Tony Kushner

2 Ronald Reagan’s America
Reagan’s adverts for his 1984 re-election: ‘It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope.’ (Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Address, Tuesday January 20, 1981.)

3 America’s sacred position
‘America has rediscovered itself. Its sacred position among nations. And people aren’t ashamed of that like they used to be. This is a great thing. The truth restored. Law restored. That’s what President Reagan’s done, Harper. He says “Truth exists and can be spoken proudly.” And the country responds to him. We become better. More good.’ (Joe Pitt, I.5.)

4 AIDS ‘[The play] came out of a very dark and terrible time. It came during a period when the President of the United States [Ronald Reagan] had been President for seven years before he uttered a word about AIDS. When I wrote the play nothing had been said about it. […] There was an ugly current all around the world that this was a visitation of evil on a group of ugly people who had really deserved it, who had earned it by their misbehaviour. And there seemed to me to be a certain kind of consonance, and also a kind of irony, that this powerful, conservative counter-revolution was taking place at exactly the moment when we were being hit by the greatest biological disaster of the twentieth-century.’ (‘Tony Kushner’, in Richard Eyre, Talking Theatre: Interviews with Theatre People (London: Nick Hern Books, 2009), p.148.)

5 AIDS ‘[Kushner’s plays showed that] what the AIDS crisis was revealing wasn’t a moral flaw on the part of gay men, as the conservatives running the country would have it, but rather a moral failing in American itself – [this] may not have come as a surprise to many in those first audiences, but it came as a profound relief to many that someone, finally, was delivering [this message] with such fervor.’ (Daniel Mendelsohn, ‘Winged Messages’, The New York Review of Books, 12 February, 2004, 42.)

6 Personal and political histories
‘The problems the characters face are finally among the hardest problems – how we let go of the past, how to change and lose with grace, how to keep going in the face of overwhelming suffering’. (‘A Note about the Staging’, in Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika (London: Nick Hern Books, 1994, n.p.)

7 Political change and writing
‘I was a member of a generation that I think was allowed to come of age during a time of a kind of, you know, enormously exciting social ferment and cultural revolution, the civil rights movement. There was a great deal in my formative years that I could look to as sources of inspiration for a conviction that the world could be improved upon, that people working in concert could make the world better, that there was a reason for political struggle.’ (Tony Kushner, ‘Angels in America, 20 Years Later’, < >)

8 Ideals and utopias Reagan: Americans are the chosen people, ‘special among the nations of the Earth’. Several main characters are Jewish (according to the Bible, ‘God’s chosen people’) Several are Mormons, whose prophet, Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni in the 19th century, and told of the location of the golden plates, upon which were written the Book of Mormon (compare Prior’s visitation in Act Two of Perestroika), and whose version of Christianity is intended to realign the church away from the misdirections that other strands of the faith had taken. In addition, Mormonism suggests an utopia in America, and Mormonism is an American religion. Kushner has said: ‘I think the title, as much as anything else, suggested Mormons, because the prototypical American angel is the angel Moroni.’ (In Philip C. Kolin and Colby H. Kullman, Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights (Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 1996), p.310.) Kushner sets up his own ideas/ideals against those of the ruling conservatives, with a base in interconnection.

9 The effect of Angels Marcia Gay Harden played Harper in the original Broadway production:

10 Things to consider Consider the character list and the doubling that goes on in the play. Pick two acts of doubling and explain what their effects are, and why Kushner chose to link the characters. Who are the ‘Others’ in the play (i.e. not white, Protestant/Catholic, middle class)? Why does Kushner involve these Others? ‘When people were more than ever having to explore the extent to which we were really interconnected, the reigning ideology was one of complete selfishness and disconnection.’ (Talking Theatre, p.149.) What examples of interconnection can you find in the play? How is history treated in the play? How can Walter Benjamin’s description of history (an inspiration for Kushner) be connected with the play? A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken Books, 1968), p.257.)

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