Archive for December, 2008

Angels in America

December 22, 2008

The discussion revolving around our last book in the Jewish Literature series, Angels in America by Tony Kushner, was incredibly rich and diverse.  We started our discussion by exploring the parallels between the Morman and Jewish faiths and trying to answer the question, “Why did the author chose to use the Morman faith to contrast with the authors own Jewish traditions?”

The answer that our group decided on is that the author chose them because both sets of believers have faced persecution and have moved repeatedly, wandering through the wilderness and deserts, until arriving at their respective “Promised Lands.”  His continued use of  mirror images in everything from his use of one actor to fill two roles to his choice of religion seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the play.

We also discussed if this was a “Jewish” play.  In this case, opinion was more divided.  On the one hand, we had an impressive depth of biblical, and in particular, Jewish mythology that was referenced in the play. On the other hand, some members of the group felt that it explored more political and multicultural themes.  However, by the end of the discussion, it was decided that Angels in America was indeed a Jewish theme, especially in its exploration of identity issues.

This was a particularly rich discussion and ended the book discussion series on a high note.  Based on the success of this program, be sure to watch for more themed discussion series at the Kansas City Public Library in the very near future.

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Discussion questions for Angels in America by Tony Kushner

December 17, 2008

Discussion questions for Angels in America by Tony Kushner

1. Some critics have questioned the extent to which this play is a piece d’occasion, a play that draws its power from the topicality of its subject matter, particularly the AIDS crisis—they predict that the play will not last in the canon of drama over the long course of time.  What do you predict? Does the play seem “dated” even now, over 20 years after 1985?

2. How do you understand the meaning of the angel in this play? What is her role in the plays stream of conflicts? In addition to this literal angel, does the play contain any figurative angels or devils? If so, how do any of these angel or devil figures mediate good and evil?

3. The play opens with the funeral of Louis’s grandmother.  The rabbi tells her mourning family that she came from across the ocean, perhaps from a Litvak shtetl:  “You can never make that crossing she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not anymore exist.  But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross.  Every day.  You understand me? In you that journey is” (16-17).  How does the play move that journey forward?

4. Kushner has structured a pattern of relationships very carefully in this play.  Among the significant parallels are those of Louis and Prior as a couple and Joe and Harper as a couple.  What do you think Kushner is saying about the nature of such familial ties? You will probably think of other patterns of relationships as well that compare and contrast with these.

5. Kushner calls for several roles to be cross cast in the stage version.  Among them are the roles of Hannah, Ethel Rosenberg, and Rabbi Chemelwitz.  Starting with this set of cross-cast characters (played in the HBO version by Meryl Streep), what do these cross-castings communicate (beyond Kushner’s awareness that theatre’s budgets require plays to be performed with as few actors as possible)?  Interestingly, these three characters cross boundaries of religion, gender and living and dead.

Contributed by Ben Furnish