Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Reader's Diary #975- Tony Kushner: Angels in America (Part One, Millennium Approaches)

When I sat down to write this today, I was ready to rant. I had some major issues with Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part One- Millennium Approaches, issues I needed to get off my chest. But, as I read it about a week ago I figured I should do a little research on it first. To refresh my mind on some of the details. I'm glad I did. It turns out I was wrong.

One of my issues was that it was only the first part. This wasn't entirely a beef with the writing, I was just annoyed that I could only find an e-copy of the first part. Why not also publish the second part Perestroika in the electronic format? However, I decided to read Millennium Approaches anyway, since from what I could tell the first part should be able to stand on its own. In fact, Millennium Approaches was first performed in 1990 and the 2nd part didn't come until 2 years later. However, when I first read it it did feel dropped at the end, like I was missing the 2nd half. I had so many questions and concerns. It couldn't hold up on its own at all!

Or could it? I admit it: when it came to Angels in America I was a lazy, unfocused reader. In my defense, I was reading it while in New York. At the end of very long, very filled days exploring Manhattan, when everyone else was asleep, I'd read Kushner's play. I was falling asleep myself much of the time, thinking ahead to what tomorrow would hold, bitter that I'd not been able to get Perestroika, and not overly enthusiastic for Millennium Approaches (I'd noted on the plane that Kushner had written the screenplay for Lincoln, which I'd found boring). In other words, I wasn't in a good head space to be reading the play.

Apparently I got some things mixed up. In fact, I even confused two characters, thinking one had AIDS when it was really another and this mix-up changed the plot quite a bit, not to mention destroying some of my earlier impressions on certain characters. Thankfully, after reading over online summaries again and again, the play now makes sense to me. I even like characters again. Granted some of my confusion would have been avoided had I seen the play performed in public, but that wasn't the case.

I'm still not sure the play was perfect. Sure there are some great themes explored (the role of God and society in shaping our fate, the resistance of the individual, etc) I still think the play is a bit busy. I applaud anyone who experiments, but there seemed to be a bit too much happening to fully reflect on the meaning. In my distracted state, I was doomed. Still, now that I've wrapped my head around it, and thinking back to the parts that did manage to pull me in, I'd definitely read Perestroika. Even if I no longer feel that I need to. (Now if I could just find an e-version.)


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I didn't realize that Angels in America was broken up into two parts. Is it performed that way as well? Did you end up seeing the play whilst in NYC?

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Initially, as I said, Millennium was performed on its own. After Perestroika came along, I'm not sure what happened; if they were performed together or not. No, I didn't see it in NYC, though visiting the city is what made me read it. I don't think it's currently on production there. I did see some shows while we were there, but all musicals, no straight up plays. We saw Phantom of the Opera, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Bunnicula, the Blue Man Group, and Wicked.

Eric P said...

Yes, Angels in America was performed in 2 parts (each 2-3 hours). There may have been a relatively short time where just the first part was done, while they were prepping for the second play. Virtually all revivals and local theatre companies do both parts together (otherwise why bother). Sometimes they do the first part Wednesday, Friday and a Sunday matinee, then the second part Thurs, Sat. and Sunday evening, but there are other options.

I was really fortunate enough to see it at the tail end of its initial New York run, and I saw a strong production in Chicago several years later. I have not watched the HBO series, but I may some day.

It appears that Angels is being remounted in Toronto this summer, and while I wouldn't mind seeing it again, I just can't see that working out.

Eric P said...

Another good "New York" play that sort of seems stuck in the 80s is Jose Rivera's Marisol. It's hard for most folks who only see the Disneyfied version of Manhattan to get their head around how New York was in the 70s and 80s. I think it's a really interesting play, but it is pretty dark.