Approaching The Millennium Essays On Angels In America Pdf

 

Angels in America

Context

Tony Kushner was born in Manhattan on July sixteen, 1956. His parents, both classicalmusicians, moved a year later to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Kushner spent his childhoodthere. Growing up as a gay Jew in the Deep South, he has later said, made him more consciousof his distinctive identity as he might not have in heavily Jewish New York City. Kushnerreturned to the city for college, receiving a degree in medieval literature from ColumbiaUniversity. After graduating, he taught in Louisiana for three years, then returned to New Yorkfor good, studying for an M.F.A. at New York University and writing and producing plays. Hisearly works included an adaptation of Pierre Corneille's

The Illusion

 in 1988 and

 A Bright  Room Called Day

 in 1990.Nothing in Kushner's early career, however, predicted the overnight success he attained whenPart One of

 Angels in America,

 Millennium Approaches,

 opened in Los Angeles in 1992.Critical reaction to the play was immediately and overwhelmingly positive: the influential

 NewYork Times

 theater critic Frank Rich, for instance, called it "a searching and radical rethinking"of American political drama and "the most extravagant and moving demonstration imaginable"of the artistic response to AIDS. The play's Part Two,

 Perestroika,

 was greeted with similaradulation the following year. Kushner received bushels of awards for

 Angels in America,

notleast of which were Tony Awards for Best Play in 1993 and 1994 and 1993's Pulitzer Prize forDrama. Outside liberal literary and theatrical circles, however, the play sometimes sparkedcontroversy. A 1996 production of

 Angels

 in Charlotte, North Carolina, for instance, took placeonly under protection of a court order after local officials threatened to prosecute actors forviolating indecent- exposure laws, and productions in other cities were picketed.It is impossible to appreciate the play without understanding something about the history of theAIDS crisis as well as the broader story of gays and lesbians in America. Although men andwomen have engaged in homosexual behavior in all times and cultures, it was only in thetwentieth century that homosexuality came to be seen as a fundamental orientation rather thana specific act. In the United States, the modern gay rights movement began after World WarTwo, which brought millions of unmarried adults into close contact in large cities far fromtheir families. Gay bars and political organizations existed mostly in secret in the 1950s and`60s, but New York City's Stonewall riot in 1969 helped usher in a period of growing opennessamong gays and greater public acceptance.Although gay life flourished in the 1970s, many gays saw the '80s as a period of retrenchmentand tragedy. The first cases of AIDS were diagnosed among gay men in 1981; within ten yearsmore than 100,000 people died of the disease in the U.S. alone. In the early years of theepidemic, ignorance and fear resulted in widespread discrimination against AIDS patients, andthe national media reported the story in a sensationalistic manner, if at all. Gays' anger aboutthe mainstream reaction to AIDS became interlinked with political frustration, as aconservative backlash that began in the late '70s hindered the cause of gay rights. For many gayactivists, Presidents Reagan and Bush symbolized the opposition: both men's administrationswere at best uneasy with and often hostile to the gay cause, and Reagan remained silent on the

Seldom has a new work of dramatic literature been discussed by scholars as widely and quickly as Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning Angels in America. One scholar termed it "a turning point in the history of gay drama, the history of American drama, and of American literary culture." The breadth of the play's thematic concerns, the originality of its construction and characterizations, and the multiple ambivalences of its message guarantee that it will provoke stimulating critical and scholarly discussion. These two volumes?the first works devoted entirely to Kushner to be published in the United States?represent a major step in the canonization of Kushner's "Gay Fantasia on National Themes." Geis and Kruger (both English, Queens Coll., CUNY) have grouped 18 essays?only two of which are reprints?into four categories: the play's political and historical themes; issues of racial, ethnic, and religious identity; apocalypse and the millennium; and performance contexts. Though all 18 are stimulating, the academic prose makes the collection appropriate only for collections supporting graduate or advanced undergraduate studies. Vorlicky (drama, New York Univ.) provides a major service by bringing together 22 interviews with Kushner, about half previously published (but several in ephemeral and nonacademic periodicals) and the others transcribed from television talk shows and symposia. The breadth of Kushner's interests and knowledge and the passion of his political and social commitments are on full display here. Reading the two collections together is particularly illuminating, as Kushner's own views at times both confirm and dampen the critical speculations of the scholars. Both volumes are mandatory for academic American literature, theater, or gay studies collections. Public libraries serving substantial gay male populations also should consider the collection of interviews.?Robert W. Melton, Univ. of Kansas Libs. Lawrence
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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