Review: ‘Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes’ at Neil Simon Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 4 April 2018
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It’s 1985 in New York City. The AIDS crisis is about to hit home for Louis Ironson when he finds out at his grandmother’s funeral that his partner, Prior Walter, has become infected.

Thus starts “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” a two-part and rather complex play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner, a work that is a frequently metaphorical examination of AIDS and homosexuality in America.

Indeed, “History is about to crack open,” a statement uttered by Ethel Rosenberg, one of several characters in the play back from the dead, as she confronts her arch nemesis, Roy Cohn, himself dying after being stricken with the virus.

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“Angels in America,” which I first saw shortly after its debut on Broadway in 1993, on HBO in 2003, and again earlier this year in the National Theatre’s revival of this masterpiece, was transferred more or less intact to Broadway just the way the original production did. While times have changed, its message remains unchanged as does its sardonic humor, set in an endless New York night.

While the play was at the time of its debut a call to arms, its message is much broader. Indeed, Marianne Elliott’s magnificent production of the thought-provoking play, presented in two parts over eight hours with a dinner break in between, was nothing short of magical and ultimately uplifting.

Attending “Angels” is both an occasion and a commitment. Each part has two intermissions, yet no one seemed to be nodding off.

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