Angels In America

Author

  • Tony Kushner

Books

  • Millenium Approaches
  • Perestroika

Characters

  • Prior Walter
  • Louis Ironson
  • Belize
  • Harper Pitt
  • Joe Pitt
  • Roy Cohn

Brief Summary

Set in New York City in the mid-1980s, Act One of Millennium Approaches introduces us to the central characters. As the play opens, Louis Ironson, a neurotic, gay Jew learns his lover, Prior Walter, has AIDS. As the play and Prior's illness progress, Louis becomes unable to cope and moves out. Meanwhile, closeted homosexual Mormon and Republican law clerk Joe Pitt is offered a major promotion by his mentor, the McCarthyist lawyer Roy Cohn. Joe doesn't immediately take the job because he feels he has to check with his Valium-addicted, agoraphobic wife, Harper, who is unwilling to move. Roy is himself deeply closeted, and discovers that he has AIDS. Joe does not know of Roy's illness at this time.

As the seven-hour play progresses, Prior is visited by ghosts and an angel who proclaim him to be a prophet; Joe finds himself struggling to reconcile his religion with his sexuality; Louis struggles with his guilt about leaving Prior and begins a relationship with Joe; Harper's mental health deteriorates as she realizes that Joe is gay; Joe's mother, Hannah, moves to New York to attempt to look after Harper and meets Prior after a failed attempt by Prior to confront Hannah's son; Harper begins to separate from Joe whom she has depended upon and find strength she was unaware of; and Roy finds himself in the hospital, reduced to the companionship of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg and his nurse, Belize, a former drag queen and Prior's best friend, who meanwhile has to deal with Louis's constant demands for updates on Prior's health.

The subplot involving Cohn is the most political aspect of the play. During his life, the character Cohn was profoundly closeted and self-hating. He prided himself on his political connections and power, which he used in a heartless and unethical manner. He played a key role in the Joseph McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. In the play, he recollects with pride his role in having Ethel Rosenberg executed for treason. As he lies alone in the hospital, dying of AIDS, the ghost of Rosenberg brings him the news that the New York State Bar Association has just disbarred him.

The play is deliberately performed so that the moments requiring special effects often show their theatricality. Most of the actors play multiple characters (e.g., the actress playing Prior's nurse also appears as the Angel). There are heavy Biblical references and references to American society, as well as some fantastical scenes including voyages to Antarctica and Heaven, as well as key events happening in San Francisco and at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

See Also

External Links

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