Angels in America

I first saw Tony Kushner’s play about the AIDS crisis, or at least, with
that catastrophe at its heart, currently showing at a revival in London,
in a version for television, but it makes much more sense to me in the
medium for which it was conceived; that is, it was simply transposed to
the small screen in all its resplendent theatricality, and should be
appreciated on those merits. The deliciously camp cosmology of the angels
recalls Heine’s in Die Götter im Exil (the internet tells me I may be thinking
of Die Götter Griechenlands): heaven after the death, or abandonment, of God. Like the play’s politics, this may not bear too much pedantic analysis, but it works theatrically.

The character of Prior Walter is emblematic of a countercultural style that has been
to a considerable extent subsumed in the success of its cause, however partial
and fragile that still remains. The campest figures in the play are
its heroes, and that campness expresses both a refusal to conceal itself, and
the pressure to do so that it resists in revealing gestures finely pitched
between discretion and outrage. Gay men seem much more inclined to “pass” now
that it no longer matters in quite the same way. It is almost as if what is
unacceptable to the wide world is flamboyance itself, and no longer what
occurs in the bedroom. But indeed, who cares about that? What is valuable is
subversiveness, outrage, the political resistance celebrated in the play.


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