Thursday, March 8, 2001Story of 'Angels in America' is normal rather than nobleCody Griggers - Princetonian Arts WriterIn 1996, Tony Kushner's Pulitzerand Tony Award-winning play, "Angels inAmerica," met with some resistance when a production was set to open inCharlotte, North Carolina. Hours before the curtain was supposed to go up,Reverend Joseph R. Chambers publicly denounced the play, threatening tohave the cast arrested for "indecent exposure.""This play is filled with vulgarity, filled with explicit scenes, filled with unsafe sex," Chambers spewed when contacted by the New York Times.With support from arts organizations and the American Civil LibertiesUnion, a local judge eventually ordered that the show could indeed go on.The incident, while small and largely unnoticed is but a single chapter in theproduction history of a play that, like the angel in its title, continues to crashthrough the walls of naturalistic theater throughout the world.Today, "Angels in America" strives to make its mark on the Princetoncommunity as the latest Program in Theatre and Dance senior thesisproduction, directed by Jared Ramos '01.Not-so-subtly subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," Kushnermakes no attempt to ground this play in strict reality, nor is he modest aboutthe epic scope that his work envisions — and I emphasize epic — the play'stwo separate but intertwined parts combine for a marathon seven hour run.But the attention span-deficient need not shy away — Ramos explores onlythe apocalyptic "Part I: Millennium Approaches" in this production (a choiceechoed by many professional directors), which provides an ample and rathertimely glimpse into Kushner's razor-sharp wit and social commentary.The setting is New York in 1985, a mere 15 years before the dawn of thethird millennium. AIDS had just become the latest buzzword in the media. It iseasy to write off "Angels in America" as merely an AIDS play, and manycritics have taken free reign to do so.But the brilliance behind Kushner's rendition of a fantasy-tinged 80's realityis that he uses AIDS as a lens through which some of society's otherwidespread issues — global warming, pollution, anti-Semitism, Reaganomics— are illuminated. The disease becomes a metaphor for a devastated societyfighting to survive and maintain an eroding faith in a crumbling world.
But even more significant are the universal themes that "Angels" exploresthrough its complex, interwoven character relationships. The plot is far toocomplex to lend itself to a reductive summary, but the action essentiallycenters on two struggling relationships, one gay and one straight. On one endof the spectrum are Joe (Noah Burger '04) and Prior (Jed Peterson '04).Together for four years, the couple is forced to reexamine its faith in thepower of love and the ensuing shadow of death. Prior has been diagnosedwith AIDS and slowly is beginning to show the scars of his battle, and Louisquite simply can't cut it. With no one to turn to, Prior seeks solace in the