Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches

Angels in America, Part One by Tony Kushner
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's review
May 22, 09

bookshelves: finished, owned-and-still-own
Read in May, 2009

Tony Kushner, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (Theatre Communications Group, 1993)

I thought Millennium Approaches was going along like a house on fire for the first two-thirds of its length. It's character-driven, it's funny despite its heartbreaking subject matter, it handles an historical figure in such a way as to make him larger than life. (I will admit up front that, despite my mother having suggested I do so for something like twenty years now, I have not read Citizen Cohn, her favorite Roy Cohn biography, and so I can't actually say how much of Kushner's portrayal of Cohn is accurate; it is, however, all kinds of fun.) And Kushner was getting his message across in just the right way—letting the story impart the message. Then comes Scene 2 of Act 3, where Louis and Belize are sitting in a bar talking. And Louis' logorrhea is message, message, message, message, message, and the whole thing just goes to hell in a handbasket. The funny thing is, Belize recognizes that it's all message, message, message, message, message and calls Louis on it repeatedly. Even Kushner's characters can't stand message drama! (That doesn't stop Louis from prattling on.) I've been seeing this more and more recently; authors trying to insert message drama (or fiction or poetry or...) by making the characters who have to put up with it slap the speaker into senselessness. (Unless it's internal, then they get nasty looks; think about the interminable message paragraphs that Kenzie suddenly comes up with in A Drink Before the War, for example.) Here's a tip, guys: it doesn't matter how you try to cache message-based writing into your work. It's still crap. It has always been crap (well, okay, 95% of the time), and it will always be crap. And here's the kicker, in Tony Kushner's case: if you're already treading on ground that activists have worked over hundreds of thousands of times, there's basically a guarantee that some political activist with a placard has already said everything you're trying to say. And probably said it better. In this case, it's been done hundreds, if not thousands of times. It's not only message crap, it's retreaded message crap.

Now that I've spent three hundred words on Louis and Belize's painful, conversation in Act Three, I'll say that the rest of the play is just plain awesome. The characters jump off the page, the pace is fast (despite there being almost no action), the dialogue is, in the main, witty and interesting. Take out that one scene, and this is great stuff. Unfortunately, no one thought to take out that one scene. ***

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