Angels in America

Play explores personal, political power in age of AIDS


An AIDS crisis once ravaged America. Perhaps the impact of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was less profound in rural Taos. But in urban areas, hundreds of thousands of sickened people were decimated from 1982 to 1996. Why? Because the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations morally judged AIDS victims -- most notably, gay men -- and refused to act on the epidemic.

And now, a production of London's National Theatre in HD is set to reimmerse (or introduce) theatergoers to the pathos of that time.

The Taos Center for the Arts presents "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes" in its two full parts: "Part One: The Millennium Approaches" (Saturday, Jan. 13 at 11 a.m.); and "Part Two: Perestroika" (Saturday, Jan. 20 at 11 a.m.). Both showings are at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

"The Millennium Approaches" runs three and a half hours; "Perestroika" runs four hours and fifteen minutes. In addition to the usual TCA concessions, lunch from Koko is available for purchase during each show's intermission.

Recognized as a work of theatrical gravitas, "Angels in America" rocketed to success. "The Millennium Approaches" won the 1993 Pulitzer for Drama. Both parts of the play won the Tony Award in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

This National Theatre showing at the TCA has a cast that includes: Andrew Garfield (Oscar-nominated for "Hacksaw Ridge"), James McArdle ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), and the incomparable Nathan Lane who plays, in perhaps the meatiest role of his career, the real-life Roy Cohn. Susan Nuss of the Taos Center for the Arts said, "Even though 'Angels in America' debuted in 1992 and takes place in the 80s, this play offers a critique of American conservative politics, which resonates particularly now. But it's a brilliantly funny script, too, even though the subject matter is very serious."

As a two-part play that comprises a stigmatized disease, homosexuality (both out and closeted), politics, anti-gay sentiments, troubled marriages, as well as angels -- well, suffice to say, this "fantasia" benefits from having a guide.

On Thursday, (Jan. 11), Carol and David Farmer will lead a discussion about "Angels in America" at SOMOS, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. The free talk is from 5 - 6 p.m.

The Farmers have prolific backgrounds in academia and drama. In the fall, nearly 50 people showed up at SOMOS to hear the Farmers discuss the play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." During intermission at the TCA, those same people came up to the couple to thank them for keying in on things to watch and listen for.

The Farmers' analysis of "Angels in America" will be even more multi-faceted.

"This was a breakaway play that made an incredible difference in theater, and how it addressed homosexuality at that time. It also affected the whole gay rights movement, and it was the impetus that gave trend to all that has happened in the past 25 years," said Carol Farmer.

When talking about the tremendous amount of personal suffering and emotional conflict that playwright Tony Kushner infused in his script, David Farmer said, "There is a full measure of hope that the main character is decidedly moving forward."

At a combined running time of nearly eight hours, "Angels in America" is an experience as much as it is a performance. David notes the ambitious scope and said, "It opens up all of the characters. You know all the dramatic tension in the story."

Carol said, "You have a heartfelt desire to follow the characters through to the end. In the first part, you see this despair. They are trying to deal with these situations they don't understand. But when an angel crashes through his ceiling, the main character begins to assert his own will and realizes he is beginning to take control of his destiny."

Today, AIDS has gone from being a fast-acting death sentence to being a managed chronic disease -- thanks in large part to government action to speed approvals on medicines in development.

Tempo asked the Farmers why "Angels in America" would be considered important today. After all, anyone born during the 80s or 90s will not remember that this country suffered a crushing health crisis.

Carol said," The basic concern, the basic theme is for people who do not have political power; they have never been more at risk than they are now. There is a need to find the moral center and hold it. And to reject the kinds of 'ugliness' that so often rears itself in the name of politics in this country. We're excited because of what this play meant 25 years ago, and we are equally excited about what it means for today."