I was born in 1981, the year generally considered to be the start of the AIDS epidemic. I have never lived in a world without AIDS, and yet the disease felt distant from my life growing up in suburban New England. Occasionally a work of art would penetrate this bubble — I remember seeing the movie Philadelphia and feeling rocked to my twelve-year-old core at the stigma and discrimination faced by gay men living with AIDS.
My first semester in college, I read Angels in America in a post-Stonewall lesbian and gay literature class. Tony Kushner’s artistry brought the AIDS crisis to life for me in a way that books and articles had failed to do previously. The college students that I teach now are less familiar with figures like Roy Cohn and Ethel Rosenberg, but the play has not lost its relevance for them. They, too, are deeply moved by the stories that unfold throughout the play.
When I went to see the revival this year, grown men wept in the aisles afterwards, recalling the state of their lives when they had first seen the play twenty years before. For me, the power of art is that it can affect both these survivors and also those for whom AIDS is more far removed. The power of a story is an amazing thing.
Read the original New York Times review.
Watch an interview segment with playwright Tony Kushner on the play’s 20th anniversary:
Read Out Magazine’s reflection on the 20th anniversary of the play.
For more reflections on the play, read Approaching the millennium: essays on Angels in America by Deborah R. Geis and Steven F. Kruger, editors.
Sara M. Simons is a student in the PhD program in Educational Theatre at New York University and served on the planning committee for the NYU Forum on Theatre for Public Health. Her research interests include using drama work to promote social justice and the use of theatre in sexual health education. Angels in America is her favorite play. Read an argument for using theater as an educational and documentary tool, by Simons and another contributor to “Artists Responding,” Perry Halkitis.