Monday, Apr. 25, 2011

Angels in America (1993 Broadway Show; 2003 TV Movie)

In the New York Times, Frank Rich deemed Tony Kushner's 1993 epic "vast, miraculous" and "the most thrilling American play in years." Angels, subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," copped a Tony, a Pulitzer Prize and a Drama Desk award for Best Play — but nothing from the Mormons, possibly because it portrays various Saints as bigoted, politically and emotionally compromised and silently screaming to get out of a sexual closet their church doesn't acknowledge. "In my church," a young LDS member named Harper Pitt tells a gay man named Prior Walter, "we don't believe in homosexuals." "In my church," Prior zings back, "we don't believe in Mormons."

Harper's husband Joe, a young Mormon lawyer, has taken on the right-wing potentate and monster Roy Cohn as a mentor. Two gay men, neither willing to admit it (though Cohn has started to die of AIDS-related causes). Joe strikes up a friendship with gay Louis, and soon they are lovers; but though opposites may attract, they're still opposites. Says Louis: "I can't believe I spent three weeks in bed with a Mormon." After a drunken Joe calls his mother Hannah to say he's gay, she sells her Salt Lake City home and heads east to save him, while working as a volunteer in the Mormon Visitors' Center. Joe finally ends his affair by punching Louis during a fight — baaaad Mormon. Angels does have its thrilling moments, and the HBO movie — directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep (Hannah), Mary-Louise Parker (Harper) and Al Pacino (Roy) — is a splendid showcase for its actors. But Kushner's plea for compassion toward his fellow gays is compromised by his evident bigotry toward Mormons.