Angels in America Topics for Further Study
by Tony Kushner

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Kushner has cited the German playwright Bertolt Brecht as a major influence on his writing. Read one of Brecht's major plays, perhaps Mother Courage and Her Children or The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and compare and contrast Brecht's style of epic, political theatre with Kushner's. Consider such things as plot structure, depth of characters, and how each man treats important themes in his work.

Angels in America is subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes." In music, a "fantasia" is a freeform composition in which the composer lets imagination, or "fantasy," prevail over rules of a particular musical form. Fantasias may also be a medley of familiar tunes woven together with variations and interludes. Listen to a fantasia, perhaps Johann Sebastian Bach's "Fantasia in G" or Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," and determine ways in which Kushner's play is constructed like a musical fantasia. Consider the number of scenes and characters in Angels in America, as well as the play's themes and the way they are woven into the plot.

The setting for Angels in America is extremely important to the plot and its characters. The 1980s are viewed as a time of economic greed and rising political conservatism. It was also the decade in which AIDS was discovered and homosexuals in America had to fight for rights, recognition, and survival. Pick a year during the eighties and research top news stories in politics, economics, and medicine. Then return to Kushner's play and see how your findings may have influenced the characters and their behavior.

The first part of Angels in America is subtitled Millennium Approaches. The word "millennium" has a dual meaning. It refers to a time span of one thousand years, and, in some religions, it suggests a hoped-for period of joy, prosperity, and justice that will occur near judgment day. Research the significance of changing millennia in history. How did people act near the changing of the last millennium in the year 1000? What events are planned around the changing of the next millennium in 2000? How is the prospect of a new millennium important in Kushner's play?