On this episode, we discuss two renditions of Tony Kushner’s gay fantasia Angels in America: Mike Nichols’ HBO Miniseries from 2003 and the NTLive recording of Marianne Elliot’s 2017 production at the National Theatre in London.
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This episode features Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney and special guests:
Dr. Emily Garside – who did her PhD on theatrical responses to the AIDS crisis with a case study on Angels in America.
Noemi Berkowitz – actor, director, critic – past Seventh Row contributor and regular 21st Folio podcast contributor.
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On this episode on Angels in America
- Angels in America’s place in LGBTQ+ theatre (3:04)
- The characters (10:06)
- Our relationship to the play (16:56)
- The productions (30:30)
- Comparison between productions (41:56)
Angels in America
Angels is a huge sweeping play told over two parts: Millenium Approaches and Perestroika in total it is around 7 hours long and can be viewed as either separate evenings or as a ‘whole day experience’
The play mixes the fantastical- Angels crashing through ceilings, ghosts, and dreams talking back- with elements of emotional and medical realism. It’s at once a sincere relationship and politically driven drama and at once a surreal political, philosophical meta-theatrical adventure.
It follows Prior Walter, and his diagnosis with AIDS, parallel to the story of Harper, a Mormon, now living in New York, who has ‘emotional problems’ and a valium addiction. Prior begins to see Angelic visions, that seem to escalate with his illness, telling him he’s a Prophet. Alongside Prior’s story we see a fictionalized version of all too real Lawyer Roy Cohn, who also has AIDS but denies it, claiming he has Liver cancer. Roy, like Harper and Prior also sees visions- in his case of Ethel Rosenberg whose prosecution team he was part of.
Harper’s husband Joe is a gay man, scared and in the closet. In part due to his religious beliefs as a Mormon, in part because he’s a Republican, and Roy Cohn’s protegee. As everyone’s lives collide Joe ends up with Louis, Prior’s ex boyfriend who leaves him when he gets sick, scared of his inability to care for his boyfriend. Roy meanwhile finds himself under the care of Belize, a gay nurse who happens to be Prior’s best friend. As lives entwine, Prior’s visions escalate, and he finds himself pulled to Heaven making the decision to return the prophet the Angels gave him and decline his status as a Prophet.
Told over 7.5 hours, it’s a complex philosophical, political, theatrical adventure, which is also full of heartfelt emotional moments as well.
The 2003 miniseries is available on DVD and streaming on Crave in Canada and HBO Max in the USA
Hannah Pitt/Ethel Rosenberg
The Angel/Nurse Emily
2017 National Theatre
- Visit Emily’s website for more in-depth analysis of Angels in America and updates about her book, More Life: Two Decades of Angels in America
- Visit Noemi’s website for updates on her work