On Sunday, December 7, HBO showed the first part of their film production of Tony Kushner’s epic play Angels in America, with a high-powered cast including Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson. There are a number of lesser-known actors in the leading roles of Prior Walter, Louis Ironson. Jeffrey Wright repeats his Tony-award-winning role as Belize, the black queen nurse/friend.
There is no way to describe easily Angels in America, because the sum of the parts is so much more extraordinary than any single element. Kushner’s subtitle of “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes” in the mid-1980s is as good as anything. It is a pretty strong indictment of President Reagan, whose lips did not utter the word AIDS until his friend Rock Hudson died of it.
Angels in America mixes historical characters such as Roy Cohn (of McCarthy era fame), Ethel Rosenberg (who, with her husband Julius, was executed for treason at the behest of Roy Cohn), as well as characters of fantasy. Al Pacino plays Cohn with menacing exactness and creepiness. The amazing Meryl Streep plays Ethel, hardly moving a muscle except her eyes and a twitch of eyebrows or lips. She also plays an aged rabbi and the mother of Joe Pitt, the Mormon married closeted gay man. Justin Kirk (known primarily as a stage actor) plays the starring role of Prior Walter, a young gay man very sick with AIDS who is annoited to be a Prophet by the Angel (Emma Thompson), who makes a spectacular entrance through Prior’s bedroom ceiling at the end of Part One.
Angels in America is a movie that should be seen and discussed. I watched it by myself on Sunday night and afterwards wished that I had someone around to talk about it with. It is quite astonishing. I am on the edge of my chair waiting for Part Two next Sunday night. Catch the re-runs on HBO if you can!