Angels in America is a play written by Tony Kushner that chronicles the disintegrating relationships of two couples. The story is set in America in the 1980s against a background of gluttony, conservatism, politics, and controversial sexuality. It is this backdrop that provides Angels in America with its enormity and sets it apart from other love stories. In this play, the plot is largely driven by its themes, which are viewed from different characters' perspectives as the story unfolds.
Throughout the play, Kushner introduces to readers, many weighty issues. Some of these issues include: homosexuality, religion, stereotypes, race/ethnicity, denial, betrayal, and identity; each character in the play questions and grapples with at least one of these subjects. As a reader, it was particularly interesting to watch the characters struggle with the issue of stereotypes. Living in New York City during the 21st century, the gay community has had and continues to be a prominent part of society.
The gay people that I have crossed paths with do not seem to be shy or ashamed of their sexual orientation. They do not hide who they are attracted to and they do not view their orientation as a sign of weakness. Due to my exposure to this, it was baffling to witness Roy’s reaction upon hearing from his doctor that he has contracted AIDS. Roy states, “Now to someone who does not understand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men. But really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men.
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Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody know. Who have zero clout. Does this sound like me, Henry? ” (Kushner, 51). Although Roy may desire another man, to him desire is irrelevant. Roy only identifies with other powerful people and in his eyes, gays are powerless. Roy believes his money and status protect him from the oppression gay men face. Roy is even convinced that he can use his money to buy immunity from AIDS.
Another issue that is raised by Kushner is sanity. In the play there is a character named Harper who is addicted to Valium. Throughout the play, Harper struggles and questions what sanity is. Her vivid imagination causes her to travel between reality and fantasy quite often. At one point, towards the end of Part One, Harper “travels” to Antarctica in a dream. She believes that she has found her utopia and now she can finally live in peace. Harper’s imaginary friend, Mr. Lies joins her n her journey and explains, “This is a retreat, a vacuum, its virtue is that it lacks everything; deep-freeze for feelings. You can be numb and safe here, that’s what you came for. Respect the delicate ecology of your delusions” (Kushner, 108). Harper wants to remain in her created delusion forever; her manifested utopia is a result of her inability to face reality. Because Harper is too scared to leave the confines of her home, she has created a world inside her own mind so that she can live there and remain in paradise forever.
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