Angels

In America By Kushner

Explore how any playwright of the time has successfully dramatised a social
issue. Contemporary theatre has stepped further and further away from the
sugar-coated happy society plays and musicals that once dominated Broadway and
the West End. Now, harsher more realistic stories with issues facing todayís
society and politics are shocking that conventional-type of theatre. "Shock is
a part of art. Art thatís polite is not much fun" (Kushner:Bernstein). One
of these stories that have made this kind of impact on modern drama and theatre
is Tony Kushnerís "Angels in America." Described as "the best American
play in forty years," this two part play ("Millennium Approaches" and

"Perestroika") gives to life a variety of different issues facing not just
the American society it is set in but the modern world as well (Lucas). With the
main story line dealing with gays, politics, and AIDS in the 1980s, with this
ĎA Gay Fantasia on National Themesí Kushner has successfully explored these
issues in further detail ultimately "nudging Broadway into the 21st century"
(Winship). The gay revolution took place in America in the 1980s which,
consequently, is the setting for "Angels in America". The strong economy
gave many of "Reaganís children" power and courage to be more open with
their sexuality (Part One: Act II, scene vii). People were Ďcoming outí, so
to speak, more than in previous decades. With five out of eight of the main
characters in the play being gay males, and half of those in high power
positions (i.e. law), the setting and political information discussed support
the truth that Kushner writes about the gay community. "Good politics will
produce good aesthetics, really good politics will produce really good
aesthetics, and really good aesthetics, if somebodyís really asking the hard
questions and answering them honestly, theyíll probably produce truth" (Kushner:Bernstein).

There is truth at the most basic of levels when, Joe, chief clerk for a Federal

Court of Appeals judge, admits that he is homosexual (Part One: Act II, scene
viii). Also truth to the most extreme, a consequence leading to death for many
homosexuals: HIV and the AIDS virus, involving Roy the successful lawyer/power
broker (Part Two: Act IV, scene viiii). "Angels in America" is not just a
Ďgay playí, but a play about American politics as well. The appearance of
politics, not to mention homosexuality and AIDS, are issues resisted by most
critics and audiences. Despite the odds, the subjects have proved successful to

Kushner. The political element in this play is one that is a key in the story
line and something not seen in many plays before this time. "Is it that

Americans donít like politics, or is it that so much theatre that is political
isnít well done?" (Kushner:Bernstein) It is mentioned in detail and is even
non-fictional, as mentioned in Kushnerís disclaimer for "Perestroika".

This type of detail given at an aesthetic approach essentially gives the
audience a life-like story and the characters that life to portray. The change
the Reagan era caused in politics and the country is expressed by these
characters as a part of that society. For example, Joe, representing the
optimistic opinion, discusses with Harper the positive change that the Reagan
administration has given to the country: "...For the good. Change for the
good. America has rediscovered itself. Its sacred position among nations. And
people arenít ashamed of that like they used to be...The truth restored. Law
restored. Thatís what President Reaganís done....We become better. More
good..." (Part One: Act One, scene v). As Belize, representing the more
pessimistic opinion, discusses to Louis of his hate of America under Reagan:

"Well I hate America, Louis. I hate this country. Itís just big ideas, and
stories, and people dying, and people like you...I live in America, Louis,
thatís hard enough. I donít have to love it..." (Part Two: Act IV, scene
iii). The varying opinions, openly discussed by these characters, represent the
same doubts and hopes of that American society. "I think that a characterís
politics have to live in the same sort of relationship to the characterís
psyche that peopleís politics live in relationship to their own psyches" (Kushner:Bernstein).

Just the detailed political statements that the characters give in relation to
society are enough to leave the audience thinking and questioning that
power-hungry society of the 1980s. Yet, Kushner gives this a further twist by
making the audience really test their political views. As they may be able to
associate with these conservative political views, will they still be able to
agree with that same character and their view on alternative sexuality? This is
another part