June 29, 2018

Angels in America – The Angel Arrives

Dateline: New York, New York-

It’s a hot night and I just walked back from Times Square to Gramercy Park. I walk when I need to think and process and Manhattan is the perfect place to do it. Relatively flat. Always something interesting going on streetside. My pedometer has been very happy over the last few weeks. My feet have gotten used to the miles and aren’t hurting the way they were so all is right.

Today, after breakfast and a little window shopping in the Flatiron district, I headed for Lincoln Center where I met the one and only Dona D. Vaughn for lunch. Dona heads the opera program at the Manhattan School of Music and has been down to Birmingham a number of times to direct productions so we have gotten to know each other rather well. Both of us have experienced recent loss so we had plenty to talk about. Dona will always be in my personal pantheon of heroes as she was one of the original Vocal Minority in Company back in the day.

As I had nothing much to do this afternoon prior to show time, I took myself to see the new Jurassic Park film. It wasn’t good… MNM will weigh in on it soon, I’m sure. Then it was time for happy hour cocktails and part II of Angels in America: Perestroika. I’m glad I did the two parts on two different days. Putting them together on the same day might have been a little much.

I wrote a little bit about Angels after seeing part I and now that I’ve had a chance to see both parts and digest them, my general thoughts. Impeccably designed and staged – there’s a true cinematic flow from scene to scene with multiple turntables, whirling set pieces, rooms rising and falling into the floor and the greys and blacks of the set with the neon trim in various colors evokes the mid-80s. The performances vary. Nathan Lane, as Roy Cohn, brings a waspish sense of humor to a part that’s usually played very straight and it works and deserved his Tony. I did not like Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, and don’t think he deserved his. To me, for the piece to work, Prior has to have a central core of dignity to explain why the angel would choose him and Garfield plays him as a silly queen. He starts to get a backbone later in part 2 but by then it’s too late. To me, his Tony should have gone to Joe McArdle as Louis which is a much more difficult part and which I thought was masterfully done. I hated Denise Gough as Harper and wanted her to fall into one of the traps so we wouldn’t have to listen to her deadpan delivery anymore.

Angels in America is a difficult play for my generation of gay men as we lived it in real time. Those not in the LGBT community really don’t understand what it was like to watch your peers dying all around you and have your government nonchalantly not care and more or less condemn you to disease and death. Those of us who were around and remember it all too well know that we organized, fought back, and forced society and the government to acknowledge our humanity. Having been through it once, I am less worried about Trumpism as I know what Americans are capable of when their backs are against the wall and they have nothing else to lose.

The parallels between the Reagan 80s and modern day in regards to the callous politics of ignorance are on full display in this production and, of course, the prescient inclusion by Tony Kushner of Roy Cohn as the major antagonist makes it all the more obvious. Cohn and Trump are cut from the same cloth (and New York sources suggest it was Cohn and his malevolence that took a spoiled rich kid from Queens and turned him into a malignant narcissist with a sadistic streak). Trump is perhaps Cohn’s ultimate middle finger to American society, wreaking havoc three decades after his death.

College student Andy

Because of my age, the HIV epidemic has molded everything about my adult life. I was a college student in the San Francisco Bay area when gay men first started getting sick. I spent my 20s fully expecting to be dead before age 30 and you can’t go through something like that without it changing who you are in the very core of your being. I’m sure it’s part of what drew me into a chronic care specialty and palliative care arenas. Tommy used to say that the year he was 23, he went to 26 funerals of young men his age. He hated going to funerals and memorials ever after. I took my anger and fear and poured them into my career. He took his and poured it into helping create the HIV service organizations that still exist in Birmingham and into nursing. What might have become of us had we not needed to do that? Would Tommy have been a musician earlier with a different career trajectory? Would I have ended up in Geriatrics? Who’s to say?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s