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Angels in America | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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Why does Kushner have some actors in Angels in America: Parts One and Two play multiple gender roles?

Not only does Kushner have some actors play multiple parts (the same actor who plays the Angel, for example, plays several additional characters), the same actor may play male, female, and, in the case of the angels, characters of indeterminate or shifting gender. The actor playing Hannah, for example, also plays Rabbi Chemelwitz, Ethel Rosenberg, the Angel Asiatica, Henry, and Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov. By using cross-gender casting, Kushner creates a sense of flexibility about gender and about identity in general that connects disparate characters. By the end of the play, Prior has gathered a new family or society around him, consisting of Hannah, Louis, and Belize. The cross-gender casting suits this new, inclusive social model. It also aligns with the blessing Prior gives at the end of the play that applies to everyone in the audience, regardless of gender.

In what ways is Harper's vision about the ozone layer in Act 5, Scene 8 of Angels in America: Perestroika uplifting or not?

On the plane to San Francisco in Act 5, Scene 8 of Perestroika, Harper tells of a vision: the souls of those who died "of plague" and of famine and war rise up, join hands, and form a network; together the linked souls repair the hole in the ozone layer. Harper's vision is uplifting because it humanizes AIDS victims in two ways. First, the souls include not only AIDS victims but a broader circle of people who have suffered tragic deaths from famine and war. Second, Harper connects them to all life by making them protectors of all humanity, in fact, of all living things protected by the ozone layer. But would those about to die of AIDS or famine or war welcome this role, and this rationale for their deaths? Early in Perestroika, in Act 2, Scene 1, Prior and Belize attend the celebratory funeral of a "glitter queen." Belize is uplifted; Prior is not, saying, "[S]orry if I can't join in with the rest of you death-junkies, gloating about your survival ... because unlike you I have nothing to gloat about." Likewise, maybe only the living could feel happy about the ozone layer repaired by the dead.

What is the significance of the blessing "more life" in the Epilogue of Angels in America: Perestroika?

Prior is just 30 years old when he is diagnosed with AIDS. In contrast, the funeral at the beginning of Millennium Approaches, Act 1, Scene 1 is for a very old woman; her death is part of the orderly succession of the generations. Prior's looming death seems untimely. Prior of course would like more life, a longer life. The statement also acts as Prior's blessing on the audience, with his hope of more life for all humanity. linking AIDS sufferers to all of humanity. However "more life" does not necessarily mean happy life. Life includes suffering, as Rabbi Chemelwitz remarks of Sarah in Act 1, Scene 1 of Millennium Approaches: "the life she had, she's better off." When Prior returns from Heaven, Louis comments that AZT will make Prior better. Prior says the pills are poison, and he adds, "this is my life, from now on." The statement could mean Prior has accepted suffering: "To face loss. With grace," as Prior says to Harper in Heaven (Act 5, Scene 2). At that point, the idea of facing loss with grace seemed "impossible" to Prior. However, in Act 5, Scene 5, when Prior talks to the Angels and refuses to be the prophet, he says, "It's so much not enough, so inadequate but ... Bless me anyway. I want more life." By the Epilogue, he wishes "more life" for everyone, including the audience.

How does the Heaven Prior visits in Angels in America: Perestoika compare and contrast to the one Belize describes?

In both Prior's and Belize's versions, Heaven is a city that has suffered upheaval. The existing buildings in Belize's Heaven are decrepit: "Windows missing in every edifice like broken teeth." The Heaven Prior visits resembles San Francisco after the 1901 earthquake. But while both Belize's and Prior's celestial cities are in rubble, the debris has different meanings. The Heaven Prior visits is a traumatized place. Prior says the Angel told him when humans began to migrate, earthquakes or "Heavenquakes" began in Heaven, eventually leading to God abandoning the angels. The angels, who have no capacity to create, yearn for his return but can't seem to change the situation. The debris in Belize's version of Heaven, however, reflects the city's dynamism, its raw energy. It is a landscape of survival, a place reinventing itself, with "something new and crooked going up" on every corner" and "deities ... as brown as the mouths of rivers,"representing radical social change.

What is revealed about Joe by his response to Roy's unethical job offer in Act 2, Scene 6 of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches?

Roy offers to get Joe a position in the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Later Roy tells Joe the reason for the offer: Roy "borrowed" money from a client, and he needs Joe to run interference for him so he won't get prosecuted. Ultimately Joe's answer is no. But Joe's first response is a compromise. Can't Martin Heller, already at the Department of Justice, pull strings for Roy? Roy says Joe doesn't understand: Martin is "Ed's man" [Edwin Meese], and "you're mine," he tells Joe. Faced with a difficult situation, Joe looks for a middle way, a compromise. This is similar to Joe's compromise with his own sexuality. While married to Harper, he takes long walks to watch the cruising at night in Central Park. The watching, too, is a compromise, in which Joe tries to avoid having sex by watching rather than participating.

For what purpose is Joe's story unresolved at the end of Angels in America: Perestroika?

Joe begs Harper not to leave him, saying, "I don't know what will happen to me without you." In the next scene Joe remains onstage, alone in their Brooklyn apartment, while Harper flies to San Francisco. Joe's ending can be viewed in light of what happens to characters in Angels in America based on whether they are in or out of the closet. Prior, one of the most out characters, still has AIDS at the end of the play but has been rewarded with "more life," a blessing he passes on to the audience. Roy, who is even more deeply closeted than Joe, dies in terrible pain, nearly alone but for the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. Joe's ending remains unresolved because he is compromised about his sexuality—sort of out, sort of not.

How does Hannah change during the course of Angels in America: Perestroika?

Hannah moves to New York to sort out her son, Joe. She uncomplainingly does what needs to be done; she bails Harper out of jail, and she waits for Joe to remember his "duty": marriage. At first Hannah is like the mute and uncomplaining mother of the Mormon mannequin family. But her contact with the Angel transforms her. There is her passionate kiss with the Angel and the orgasm it causes for her. But the more important event for Hannah is perhaps her role as Prior's advisor in how to deal with the Angel. Hannah guides Prior in resisting the Angel's will: in wrestling her, in demanding a blessing, and in refusing the book of prophecy. By helping free Prior from the Angel's will, Hannah also liberates herself. She becomes one of the final group who appear with Prior in the Epilogue, representing a new social order.

Why does Hannah end up with Prior and his friends in the Epilogue of Angels in America: Perestroika?

When Joe calls Hannah from Central Park in Act 2, Scene 8 of Millennium Approaches, she offers him no help: no acknowledgment of his coming out and no answer to the anguished question about whether his father had loved him. Even her trip to New York is more about enforcing tradition than offering help. It is possible that Hannah ends up with Prior, Belize, and Louis because she has undergone a transformation. She too may be queer by the end of the play. She professes finding "men, in any configuration" to be "unappetizing," and she shares an orgasmic kiss with a female Angel. (Meanwhile, Joe ends the play begging Harper to let him back into the closet.) Or perhaps, regardless of sexual orientation, Hannah now finds Prior's chosen queer family the best fit for her. She and Prior become close over the course of the play as she manages to face the physical symptoms of his disease without rejecting him as Louis does. She also encourages him to refuse the role of prophet of stasis foisted upon him by the Angel. In this sense, she forges a closer bond with Prior than she could with her own son.

How is family represented in Angels in America: Parts One and Two?

In a way, biological families are not significant at all in Angels in America. Apart from Hannah, there are few family members mentioned. Joe's father is dead; Louis and Prior attend Louis's grandmother's funeral, but they seem not to run into Louis's family there. Prior teases Louis about Louis's inability to come out fully to his family. Hannah comes to New York when her son, Joe, admits to her that he is gay, but they struggle to communicate with each other and lack the deeper connection that Hannah forms with Prior. Instead, biological families in Angels in America are portrayed as models or types rather than people. The first such model family is Ronald Reagan's, which Louis discusses with Joe while they lunch by the courthouse. Louis says of them, "I mean it's not really a family ... there aren't any connections, no love" (Millennium Approaches, Act 2, Scene 7). The family of Mormons in the diorama room at the Mormon Visitors' Center in Act 3, Scene 3 of Perestroika is similar: brave sons and father, silent mother, all standing as an artificial model family, no more than mannequins, a "dummy family." The families that matter most in the play are the ones characters create for themselves. Roy admits he's had "many fathers, powerful, powerful men, I owe my life to them" (Act 2, Scene 4). Roy's fathers are chosen ones, adoptive ones, for whom he is "a good son." Roy, in turn, gives Joe, who had a troubled relationship with his father, the blessing a father normally gives to a son. Similarly, if any group exhibits the connections and love Louis thinks are the hallmarks of family, it is the group of friends gathered at the Bethesda Fountain in the Epilogue to Perestroika, who form their own kind of family.

How do Prior and Harper resemble and differ from each other in Angels in America: Parts One and Two?

Prior and Harper both have otherworldly visitors and visions. The two characters meet each other in distant worlds: first in a mutual dream, and then in the ruined San Francisco that is Heaven. They each have a guide into these distant lands: Mr. Lies whisks Harper to Antarctica, and the Angel brings Prior a message from Heaven. At the end of the play, both Harper and Prior offer powerful, optimistic representations of a world that can progress and heal itself. Harper's spiritual guide never comes into conflict with her. Mr. Lies is ready to take her wherever she wants. In contrast, the Angel crashes through Prior's ceiling to bring Prior a message against his will. Prior refuses his prophecy and his calling; Harper is more passive than Prior, never renouncing her use of tranquilizers and almost disappearing into her dreamworld. Harper's final words in the play concern the afterlife, and she describes souls she sees at a great distance. Prior's final words concern this life and are addressed to the audience in the theater with him.

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