Split screens are often used in film—and divided stages in live theater—to either depict parallels between characters or sets of characters or, conversely, to depict contrasts between the perspectives of those characters. In Tony Kushner's Angels in America, the playwright employed this device for both of these purposes. One example of the use of split-screen presentation involves the married-but-highly-incompatible couple Joe and Harper, the former a closeted gay man, the latter a prescription drug addict. As their marriage continues to deteriorate over her mistrust of him and his struggle with the fact of his sexual orientation, Kushner divides the screen between the two characters to depict their parallel struggles while contrasting the underlying issues with which they contend.
A second use of split-screen in Angels in America—and a major example of Kushner's use of a divided stage in the live theater production—has gay couple Louis and Prior arguing about their relationship on one side, while Joe and Harper argue about theirs on the other side. It is a scene, or pair of scenes, filled with anger and tension as the respective couples come to terms with their existential differences. Again, Kushner uses the device to emphasize the parallel worlds in which his characters reside.
There are more examples of the use of split screen and divided stage in Angels in America. Kushner's story is about the fragility of relationships built on mistrust, with, of course, the haunting figure of a dying Roy Cohn in the background to emphasize the hypocrisy that permeates much of American society. The use of divided stages or split screens enables the audience to witness multiple dynamics simultaneously while observing the parallel universes in action. It can be confusing to the audience to have two sets of characters arguing loudly with each other, but the chaos is Kushner's point. The lives of his characters are messy, and the problems stem in no small part from the deception within their souls.