A two-part, seven-hour play, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is an epic of life in America in the mid-1980’s. In the play, self-interest has overtaken love and compassion, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is decimating the gay male population, and victory in the ideological battle between liberals and conservatives seems to be going to the conservatives. Tony Kushner’s leftist politics are unmistakably present in his play, but Angels in America is not a polemic. Instead, it is a fantastic journey through the lives of two couples. One couple is Louis, a Jewish word processor, and Prior Walter, a former drag queen who has AIDS. The other is Joe Pitt, a Mormon republican and lawyer, and his wife, Harper. Another key player is the ethically questionable lawyer Roy Cohn, a dramatized version of the real person. (Cohn was counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the “Communist witch-hunts” of the 1950’s.) Cohn is dying of AIDS and is in the process of being disbarred.
Angels in America uses AIDS as a metaphor for an investigation of life in the 1980’s. Kushner views the greed of that era as having frightening implications for personal relations. Louis spouts grand ideas in bombastic speeches but flees when faced with a lover who has AIDS. Louis is unable to face the responsibilities associated with caring for a person with AIDS. Joe, who becomes Louis’ lover, abandons his wife, deciding...
(The entire section is 450 words.)