I have fallen in love. And just like my Big Fun adoring teenage years, I have fallen in love with a group of gay men.
Having read fantastic reviews of this sold-out revival at the National Theatre, which stars some of my favourite actors including Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield and Russell Tovey, I decided to give NT Live at the Odeon a whirl. It was to be my first experience of the live streaming service. Somehow the challenge of this EIGHT hour epic, split over two performances, seemed less intimidating with the lower price tag (£20) and the promise of pic ‘n’ mix.
I approached the first FOUR hour installment with concern. Work has been rough lately and sleep has been limited. I was convinced I’d nod off within a few minutes. I was wrong. I sat in rapture for the whole FOUR hours, without even a glance at the clock.
From Nathan Lane’s first tirade of fucks and blasphemy, this is a play about anger, anger and pain.
Angels in America is at once a simple story about the breakdown of two relationships, and a multi-layered web of ideas and relationships, grinding truth and trippy hallucinations, tragedy and comedy.
Although set in 1980s America, as the gay community faces the AIDS crisis, the themes are unhappily timeless. As the characters discuss the triumph of the Right and their fear of the death of liberalism during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the comparisons to the age of Trump are sledgehammer-subtle. Treatment and understanding of AIDS has improved over the last 30 years, but there will always be politics, and discrimination and shitty relationships where no-one and everyone is to blame.
Wonderful characters swell to fill the neon-spiked minimalist set, and I was enthralled by the virtuosity of Kushner’s words. I have never experienced writing with the ability to riff at serious length on multiple topics, without missing a beat or losing the attention of the listener. These are conversations built from monologues. In stories full of pain and anger, and AIDS and arguments, I found myself laughing out loud. Humour and raw emotion and eloquent political statement – sometimes in a single moment.
When he falls seriously ill, Prior is abandoned by his angst-ridden, over-analytical lover, Louis. Prior observes from his hospital bed, that boyfriends who can’t deal with little problems are never going to be helpful in a real crisis, saying with great affection: “I loved his anguish. Watching him stick his head up his asshole and eat his guts out over some relatively minor moral conundrum – it was the best show in town.”.
For his part, Louis spends most of the FOUR hours, tearing himself apart. His explanation for leaving the man he loves? “You can love someone and fail them.”
And, as always with art, we take from it what we need, what reflects back to us.
“You can love someone and fail them.”
These visceral truths are littered throughout this play. And the truths are hard. You are dying. Your heroes will let you down. Your wife found out you are gay. You are alone.
Prior declares: “I usually say, ‘Fuck the truth,’ but mostly the truth fucks you.” Lies cause anger and pain, but sadly so does the truth. Which would you choose?
Four more hours to go in Part 2. I wish it was more.