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20th Anniversary TLDR: Angels in America (2003)
The great work begins.
Plot: In 1985, two couples’ relationships dissolve amidst the backdrop of Reagan era politics, the spreading AIDS epidemic, and a rapidly changing social and political climate.
Direction: Writer Tony Kushner on beloved American director Mike Nichols, in Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris: “He was not interested in creating fantasy. Mike’s version of the play strips away a lot of the bells and whistles - he was interested in telling a story of people who love each other and betray each other and themselves and construct lives based on lies, and sometimes they find their way back to each other and sometimes they pay a terrible price.
Screenplay: Tony Kushner wrote this play in the wake of the Reagan and Bush era(s) and the HBO film (mini-series?) landed smack in the Bush Jr. presidency. Now, some, three-odd decades since the words were first spoken on stage, it all still resonates. It’s a piece that speaks to the truth and struggles of any time. In a book I must recommend, Isaac Butler and Dan Kois’ The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America, Kushner says, “The person that I was at twenty-nine very deeply believed that there would be great progress...”the world only spins forward,” “the time has come,”...I’m glad that I didn’t know back then that at sixty I’d be looking at some of the same fucking fights that I was looking at at twenty-nine...these are dark, very dark days, (2017, Trump’s presidency) but I believe in the resiliency of our democracy.
Performances: I could write a lot about the performances in this version, but this is a TLDR after all, so I will instead do the exact opposite and rank the leading performances, from favorite to least, with zero elaboration: Al Pacino, Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Emma Thompson, Justin Kirk, Meryl Streep, Ben Shenkman, Mary-Louise Parker.
Great line: Louis says, “Rabbi, what does the Holy Writ say about someone who abandons someone he loves at a time of great need?” The rabbi responds, “Why would a person do such a thing?”
Another great line: “I want the voice; it's wonderful. It's all that's keeping me alive. I don't want to talk to some intern about it. You know what happens when I hear it? I get hard.”
Another great line (there are a lot): “You see La Cage? Best thing on Broadway. Maybe ever.”
Another great line: “The great work begins.”
Fun fact: Despite it being (sadly) rarely performed, I’ve seen both parts of Angels live...but they were two separate productions. I saw Part II on Broadway and Part I in Washington, DC years later.
Imaginary accolade: It already has plenty of real accolades.
Everything is too long. Is it too long? It’s six hours, but who could complain? I still want more.
Rating: It’s fucking Angels in America, who cares if this version is a little imperfect?
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn't exist.
Credit: Plot synopsis from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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