*Angels in America* tribute, 10/8/20
Richard and I saw a tribute to *Angels in America* on 10/8/20. It was a fundraiser by amFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. It was an all-star performance of scenes from Tony Kushner’s play. The individual actors recorded their performances alone at home and were magically spliced together post-production, giving the illusion of them being in the room together. The art direction was extraordinary, it set the scene, set the mood, and gave a sense of unity to the whole as a whole. The music also did a lot to create an overall tone and flow from one scene to the next. The production was one of the most thoughtful things I’ve seen online since the start of the pandemic.
Let me get this out of the way: *Angels in America* is the greatest play of my generation, the strongest play of the last quarter of the 20th century. Nothing comes close to its impact and power: the intellect, the political depth, the brilliant theatricality of it all, it’s a work of absolute genius. I need to thank my best friend Byron Ward Holz for telling me about this production, I might have missed this and never known that it happened! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The whole performance is on YouTube:
I’ll give the timing of each scene, but I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s only 50 minutes long, and it’s well worth seeing.
The first excerpt was Andrew Rannells and Vella Lovell doing the scene between Prior Walter and Harper Pitt. This is the scene where Prior says, “Smell you, Nancy Drew.” Rannells was delightful, he gave the impression of having a good time. I hadn’t seen Lovell before, she was wonderful, and it was interesting to have the sense that the actors were working off of each other, even though their performances were filmed separately.
Whoopi Goldberg gave a brief history of the early days of the AIDS crisis. The virus was weaponized and politicized, the White House went from being useless to dangerous, denying the science and helping to create a culture of fear. Sound familiar?
Paul Dano and Larry Owens did Prior and Belize’s post-funeral scene. I hadn’t seen Owens before, he was strong. Dano was one of the standouts of the show, he was tender and sweet, I would love to see him in the whole play. Prior tells Belize about having been visited by an angel, and for this performance they inserted a scene for the angel, which was played by four actors instead of just one: Linda Emond, Nikki James, Patti Lupone, and Daphne Rubin-Vega.
This was the artistic high point of the performance, the moment in which they made it into something truly cinematic and specific to the constraints of the performance. They used lots of cool effects: creepy colors, overlapping voices, multiple mouths. It had a whiff of *Buffy the Vampire Slayer* about it. Totally my jam. Best of all, it highlighted the power and poetry of Kushner’s writing.
Alan Cumming talked about amFAR’s connection to COVID, how they’re applying their 35 years of HIV/AIDS research to COVID. I was most interested to hear that they’re studying how both viruses disproportionately affect communities of color.
Glenn Close and S. Epatha Merkerson did a scene between Roy Cohn and Belize, his nurse. Seeing Close in the role made me see what a short journey it is from Roy Cohn to *Sunset Boulevard.* She was fearless. Merkerson conveyed immediacy in her monologue about her vision of heaven. She made me believe she was making it up, even though that monologue has been performed by a thousand other actors. Pretty good trick, right?
When I read online that Lois Smith was going to be one of the performers, as Harper Pitt, I knew that she was going to be performing Harper’s final monologue, from the plane to San Francisco. TEARS. She was astonishing, full of tenderness and profound, quiet wonder. This is one of the things I love most about a gala performance, that you can cast the role of a 30-ish woman with an actor who’s nearly 90.
Jake Gyllenhaal briefly encouraged everyone to give money! The performance ended, naturally, with the last scene of the play, the epilogue. Brandon Uranowicz played Louis, I had seen him in three Broadway shows (*Torch Song,* *Falsettos,* *Burn This*), he’s a wonderful actor. Jeremy O. Harris played Belize - - I only know him as a playwright, he wrote the play *Slave Play,* which was one of the most complex and daring plays I’ve ever seen on Broadway. Laura Linney played Hannah, we all know her, and she was just as great as I expected her to be. And Prior was played by Brian Tyree Henry, who I had seen in *If Beale Street Could Talk.* He was lovely, he captured the tremendous humanity of the character and the play. His last lines were shared by 20 or so people who were projected on small screens surrounding him, people “impacted by COVID and the people who love them.”
I got a text from my brother Howard after it ended, thanking me for telling him about it. I texted him back: “Richard asks, ‘Is he crying, too?’” Howard replied: “not a dry eye in this house.”