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