Saturday, January 22, 2011

why ANGELS IN AMERICA is great

People will tell you that Shakespeare is so great because of his language. But I maintain that he is so popular still because of his plots, which is why they're so frequently borrowed.

And I would go so far as to say that his popularity is in spite of his language, since so many people today have no idea what is being said about 50% of the time in any given Shakespeare play. I was the same way, the first time I saw AS YOU LIKE IT, the BBC's production with Helen Mirren. But in spite of the language barrier, I could tell that a very cool plot was happening - two women were taking the initiative to escape a bad situation, and manage to help each other, have adventures and hook up with cute guys in the end. The deus ex machina ending with Hymen isn't so great, but even Shakespeare isn't perfect.

But plot is important and that's why ANGELS IN AMERICA is so popular - great plot.

However, I've slowly come around to a deep appreciation of the monologues from ANGEL too. The Roy Cohn "pecking order" speech has always stood out as great, however, how could you not be impressed by this (excerpted)?
...Now to someone who does not understand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men. But really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody, and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout. Does that sound like me, Henry?

It's interesting that the HBO special version is longer - there's a mention of taking his boyfriend to the White House and Reagan smiling at them.

Then there's this little gem from Harper:
I don't understand why I'm not dead. When your heart breaks you should die. But there's still the rest of you. There's your breasts and your genitals, and they're amazingly stupid, like babies or faithful dogs, they don't get it. They just want him. Want him.

Then there's this bit from a character, "Martin Heller" who is Ed Meese's assistant (excerpted):
It's a revolution in Washington, Joe. We have a new agenda and finally a real leader. They got back the Senate but we have the courts. By the nineties the Supreme Court will be rock-solid Republican appointees, and the Federal bench - Republican judges like landmines everywhere, everywhere they turn. Affirmative action? Take it to court. Boom! Land mine. And we'll get our way on just about everything: abortion, defense, Central America, family values, a live investement climate...

In spite of that fact that many of his predictions are wrong, the Martin Heller character certainly gets across the Republican ideology, and the Republican-leaning Supreme Court IS pretty much true. And they're even more activist, more aggressive at over-turning precedent than even Martin could have dreamed of.

This speech (excerpted) from the Angel of America advocates death, and sometimes this makes alot of sense.
...Who demands More Life?
When Death like a Protector
Blinds our eyes, shielding from the tender nerve
More horror than can be borne.
Let any Being on whom Fortune smiles
Creep away to Death...

But maybe my favorite speech is the one that took me longest to warm up to - I really disliked it at first because of the ugliness of the imagery - but of course that's part of the point. Harper is talking to a dummy from a diorama in the Mormon center who has suddenly come to life. Harper asks the dummy "how do people change?" And the dummy says:
Well it has something to do with God so it's not very nice.
God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in, he grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard, he insists, he pulls and pulls until all your innards are yanked out and the pain! We can't even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled and torn. It's up to you to do the stitching... just mangled guts pretending.
Having gone through so many changes in the last five years, since I first saw the HBO version of the play - I have come to realize how true this metaphor is.