Queer On Demand: Angels in America | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Queer On Demand: Angels in America

Posted By on October 14, 2009, 3:21 AM

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Now available: Angels in America, the HBO miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Synopsis: A cast of disparate characters -- including a 29-year-old gay man diagnosed with AIDS; a closeted law clerk; his betrayed, pill-popping wife; and a corrupt legal power-player from the McCarthy era -- encounter shattering spiritual and moral crises as the 20th century draws to a close. ---

Rating: 5 out of 5

How to navigate: Select > On Demand | Premium Channels | HBO On Demand | HBO Movies | Angels in America (parts 1 through 6)

Remarks: Every time I try to describe this work, I get all excited by its theurgic implications and end up in a dreadful harangue about differences between the angelic hierarchies in the Jewish, Christian and Hermetic traditions [1] -- which means I end up missing the point.

Kushner utilizes religious, political and historical iconography to evoke the cataclysmic sense of dread, fatalism and gallows humor of 1985 while the AIDS epidemic was really starting to get rolling -- and the righteous fury that Reagan, in his alternating "tough guy" and "happy days are here again" speeches, had still never mentioned the mounting death toll or the thousands who had already died.

But it's more than that -- it's about the wake of emotional devastation left by those who, under pressure, abandon their human responsibilities.

And, even more, it's a divine comedy with a relevant, up-to-date philosophical angle.

And it's still more that that … and more, and more.

Over and above her portrayals as a rabbi, another angel, and even -- get this -- Ethyl Rosenberg (!), Meryl Streep's performance as a no-nonsense Utah Mormon matron is just fantastic. (Disclaimer: I'm a militant Meryl Streep fanatic, so expect no objectivity from me on this score. But, really, she's amazing.)

Fans of Weeds will enjoy moments of Justin Park in full camp drag and in sleazy leather-top garb -- and Mary Louise-Parker's performance as a housewife on the brink may seem somewhat familiar, too. Al Pacino is at his loathsome best, and Emma Thompson is allowed to chew the scenery a bit instead of staying locked into sensible, level-headed, middle-class Englishwoman mode.

Angels in America is a brilliant, multi-layered literary work. Each time you peel one onion layer off, there's another. Which is why even those who caught the miniseries when it first aired in 2003 (or, luckier yet, who attended the stage productions in '91 and '92) will find it well worthwhile to watch it again now.


1. So, avoiding the whole discussion about how the Angel in question seems both to be a "messenger" (Gr. ophelimos or Heb. malakh) as well as a Principality in the medieval Christian sense, and abandoning the tantalizing idea that, even today, there exists symbolic evidence of angelic/goddess entities that rule over cities and nations (e.g. the statue of Columbia atop the Salt Lake City & County Building), I had better jump right to the miniseries itself.


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