Angels In America, Parts 1 & 2
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 1-Sat 12 May
There’s little doubt that in the future, when the great histories of theatre post-1950 are written, Tony Kushner’s classic will take a prominent role. Reckoned by many a critic to be the greatest play of the 1990s, its cultural shockwaves resonate today through various theatrical influences on contemporary companies. But could it still have the same direct impact?
‘The primary theme for me is Harper’s line “How do people change?”,’ comments American director Daniel Kramer, fresh from a succession of recent West End successes. ‘What makes it timeless is that it focuses on four lovers who are trying very hard to change, some because they want to change, some because they have to change. That’s what’s so fascinating - they all go through traumatic experiences, and two of them succeed in changing their lives. We don’t know about the other two. Isn’t that like life?’
The piece, which was last seen in Scotland in 1996, deals with a gay couple, one of whom is diagnosed HIV positive, and a straight couple, the male and deeply religious half of which realises he’s gay. Beyond this, there’s a sprawling panoply of modern life, an encounter with Kushner’s version of Roy Cohn, the right wing former McCarthyite lawyer, and an examination, through many characters, of the body politic of the American state. Above all, as Kramer reiterates, it’s a love story about change.
‘All kinds of things can happen; you might be left by your lover, you might contract AIDS, but do you actually change? The other related theme is people taking responsibility for their actions.’
And does the play still carry a contemporary resonance? ‘Well, there’s still the figure of this savage and corrupt self interested politician in this blossoming capitalist environment,’ comments Kramer, emphasising the relevance of this to both the USA and UK. ‘But I think in 1990 having a man diagnosed with HIV on stage was a very different thing than it is now. But I hope we heighten awareness of HIV today. One of the things that I find disgraceful as a gay man myself is that AIDS has risen by 42 per cent in the gay male community, showing that a lot of men have resorted back to unsafe behaviour. The idea that AIDS is now somehow treatable, like diabetes, is dangerous, and the shift of focus to places like Africa increases the danger.’
However these ideas play today, it’s a story about love you won’t want to miss.