Blesok no. 88, January-February, 2013
In lieu of an answer – Teaching Toni Kushner’s Angels in America
It has taken me a good while to write about my fascination, perhaps even unabashed zeal for Tony Kushner’s world of a text Angels in America. Those who know me – friends, family, students, present and past – can attest to the trajectory and nuances of this great love. They can even give a better, if not clearer account, of how this epic of a play has lived alongside my private and professional lives, respectively, feeding me from within. Yes, they can even share an anecdote or two, of a Angelized conversation, of a non-stop lecture-rant with indistinguishable markings on the board (green and white included).
Yet, all love stories, especially those conceived in the theatre, need a first-person recount, of how it began, what proceeded to happen afterwards, and if a happy ending was upon it.
On that note –
To begin at the beginning: I am fully aware of the voluminous prose produced insofar on the ins and outs, the critical significance and sheer representational value of Kushner’s epic storm. This is not one such account. It is, in lack of a better term, a re-membrance of how one reader has lived in an Angel-ful world.
I was 24 years old when the play chanced upon me. I had heard its title mentioned a few times, by other thespians, always in connection with its landmark status in the now revitalized American theatre aesthetics. Yet, when I now think about it, I was not that willing to look it up. Perhaps another Kushner play, the one with the mesmerizing title had done it in: you see, I was not that taken by A Bright Room Called Day. I got the Brechtian principles, appreciated the allegory, ‘dug’ the effort. But was simply not sold on the whole idea: it read put-on. It seemed rushed; I felt trapped by its artifice.
Then, I attended a graduate seminar, one of those you wish to erase from memory altogether, which listed ‘Angels’ on its syllabus. Went to the university bookstore, bought the complete epic, sat in my favorite chair and started reading. Wow. Oh, wow. Re-read it three times, over. And then again. What dawned, as the early dawn woke me to my daily obligations, has persisted ever since: If I had only one play to teach, disseminate, stage, reflect on, ponder over, defend, share, it would be this one.
Over the years, I have had the chance to teach it, see it staged, reflect on its myriad notions, within and without academic discourse, ponder over its parallel scenes, work on getting it translated, defend its zeitgeist status, and share it with all who would listen.
Form-wise, ‘Angels’ invites the reader to a structure that is both formidable and inviting. A sort of lucid unison of the Performance Group’s environmental theatre and all that the Elizabethan stage-practices had to offer: faith, space, multiplicity of personality, illness as a metaphor, morality queered, hope.
Character-wise, ‘Angels’ welcomes the reader to a cast that is both flawed and exuberant. A family of personages like no other: of a different blood and for a new millennium.
Plot-wise, ‘Angels’… go ahead and read it. All else I simply rhetoric.