Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes consists of two plays: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. Millennium Approaches opens with a funeral service for Louis Ironson’s grandmother, who represents all of the horrendous experiences and hard-won values of immigrants to the United States.
Kushner elucidates two contrasting relationships that are at turning points: Mormons Joe and Harper Pitt (a married couple) and Louis Ironson and Prior Walter (a gay couple). The Pitts, who have moved from Utah to New York so that Joe could work as a law clerk, are barely communicating, each fighting inner demons: Joe’s inner battle is repressed homosexuality, and Harper’s is deep depression about her empty life and marriage. Prior confesses to Louis that he is HIV-positive and is frightened that Louis will leave him. The major theme of loss and abandonment is introduced.
Joe’s life is the first to intersect with Roy Cohn, the only character based on a historical figure. Cohn (a closeted homosexual who spoke out against homosexuality and died of AIDS in 1986) became famous when he obtained the death penalty for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on flimsy spy charges. Then Cohn assisted Senator Joseph McCarthy’s purge of alleged communists in the early 1950’s, ruining many innocent lives and careers.
With the cool, amoral calculation of an animalistic predator, Cohn, in order to protect himself from government intervention, tries to illegally manipulate Joe into working for him in the Reagan administration. Meanwhile, Harper, in a Valium-induced hallucination, encounters Prior, and these seeming opposites understand each other’s feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness.
The theme of physical and emotional abandonment continues when Louis gets Prior to the hospital but leaves because he cannot endure the stress of Prior’s illness. Concurrently,...
(The entire section is 790 words.)