I could trot out the usual reasons why you have to see Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s two-part “gay fantasia on national themes,” back on Broadway for the first time in 24 years.
Like: It’s an Important cultural artifact, a play that pierced the national discourse on AIDS, faith, and progressivism, inspiring countless theater-makers. Or: Nathan Lane’s Roy Cohn and Andrew Garfield’s Prior Walter are master classes in ferocious acting.
But how about this: Angels in America is really, really funny. Like exhilarating stand-up comedy funny. Each viewing of Kushner’s seven-hour extravaganza—whether it’s the glamorous 2003 HBO miniseries or Signature Theatre’s flawed but intimate 2010 revival—reminds you how Kushner fused high and low.
On the one hand, Angels is an avant-garde epic with baroquely intellectual speeches and surreal flourishes: ghosts, talking dummies, and florid hallucinations. On the other hand, it’s structured like a soap opera, replete with sitcom-ish punch lines. And like the best soap operas, the play cuts between intimate scenes of seduction, arguments, breakups, and showdowns that center around the main plotline: After contracting HIV, the caustic, flamboyant Prior Walter (Garfield) is left by his partner and then mentored by Roy Cohn (Lane), the closeted real-life lawyer and vicious ex-McCarthyite who uses his clout to keep his own HIV a secret and score experimental drugs.
Toward the end of Part One: Millennium Approaches, the AIDS-ravaged Prior languishes feverishly in bed. Trumpets sound and lights blaze as an angel rockets from heaven to his room. Prior’s awestruck whisper: “God almighty. Very Steven Spielberg.” There you have the cosmic and the camp in one line. Makes sense we’re at the Neil Simon Theatre.
Go, gasp, gape—and giggle. Look, Angels in America is high art, but it uses the same clay and spit that lowbrow entertainment does: sex, laughs, and thrills. I use the comedy and daytime-TV comparisons simply to suggest: Don’t be intimidated by the length or ideological rigor of Kushner’s script. It goes to weird, heady places, but the basic question is, Will the human race move forward or remain stuck in place? There’s no easy answer, but the night’s final line provides a clue: “More life.”
Why You Should Go: Fierce acting and sharp visuals make for an essential Broadway revival of a modern classic.
Angels in America
Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue), Theater District
Through July 15
We’ve partnered with Angels in America to offer our members an exclusive theater package! See both parts of the acclaimed production on the same day and enjoy dinner at the at the bustling and art-filled Trattoria Dell’Arte between performances.
These experiences start at $199 per person and are available for Wednesday performances only. Find out how to secure yours, here.