Part one of the Pultizer-Prize winning play “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” entitled “Millennium Approaches,” opened in McCrary Theatre on April 10. Written by Tony Kushner in 1993, it focuses on the lives of New York City residents, specifically gay couple Louis and Prior and Mormon husband and wife Joe and Harper, in the ’80s and how their lives change in light of the AIDS epidemic.
Senior Caroline Klidonas, who plays Harper, a Valium-addicted wife whose marriage is vulnerable because of the unspoken knowledge that her husband is gay, said the play is impressive with the scope of issues it addresses.
“This play is a mammoth of a play,” Klidonas said. “It covers everything from AIDS to homosexuality, justice to democracy, marriages falling apart and what scars we carry about. It is honest about what those scars are and how they make us who we are.”
To assistant director and junior Jessie Bond, the play may be set in the ’80s, but it speaks universally to what is happening today. While AIDS may not be as prevalent a topic, equal rights are, and the play speaks to those issues from its place in the past.
“There is a great focus on AIDS, but the themes are more universal than that,” Bond said. “We have made some progress on them, but not a ton. The character Joe isn’t comfortable being gay, and it’s the prejudice that still exists that makes it that way. This play humanizes the populations that still aren’t in equal standing.”
“Angels in America” is a character piece. While it is built from dozens of themes, the cast of deeply complex individuals is the heart of the show that brings those themes to life. Senior Winston Koone, who plays Louis, a hyper-intellectual who struggles with staying with his AIDS-infected boyfriend, reminds the audience that, unlike the misconception, AIDS isn’t just a homosexual disease. It has the ability to affect everyone.
“This is not a show about homosexuality,” Koone said. “This is a show about people. These are people living in the ’80s in New York City dealing with their lives in this turning point in America. The AIDS epidemic influences everyone, not just homosexuals. What I will say is that some of these characters are gay, and today, people are still facing hardship just for being who they are.”
Despite the struggle these characters face, the play emphasizes that things turn around. While there is an actual angel that appears at the end of the play, Koone said he thinks all the characters have the ability to be someone’s angel. Everyone has his or her own struggles, whether they deal with marriage, health or identity, but each has the capacity to help others. Koone said he believes it’s something everyone — cast, crew or audience member — can take away from “Angels in America.”
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle,” Koone said. “We are all angels, living in America. Everyone you meet is being influenced by your presence. And while that influence may be good or bad, it is still a force that is working its way into someone else’s life. Elon audiences will hopefully see this raw and poetic work and think about how our actions influence others and how we can be an angel to someone else.”