Angels in America

by Tony Kushner

Start Free Trial

In Kushner's Angels in America, how does the split screen technique relate characters and themes?

Quick answer:

Kushner's Angels in America uses a split stage to draw parallels between characters and themes.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Kushner's Angels in America is definitely an epic play, with different story lines overlapping and interweaving themes. Splitting the stage allows the audience to make connections that might not necessarily be as apparent in the moment. One important connection that occurs in the first play involves Parker and Harper sharing...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

a dream space. These characters are able to speak to each other and to help each other name the problem that confronts each one. As Harper and Joe deal with their infidelity and failed marriage, Parker and Lewis do the same. Sharing the general performance space offers an emphasis on how hard love is, especially when the partners are not able to face difficult truths.

Just as the grand novels of the nineteenth century seek to show a common suffering humanity by weaving elaborate webs (Tolstoy and Eliot come to mind), Kushner does the same thing with his set. That the performances are occurring in sometimes jarring sequence, and sometimes simultaneously, allows Kushner to further make the types of claims about time that epic writers often seek to make. We can see the panorama of human lives playing out from the angels', or perhaps the distant God's, perspective.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial