Tribe Theatre: Part of the big deal with Angels in America was that it was so controversial when Millennium Approaches debuted in 1990. AIDS—one of the central themes of the show—was new and shocking then. Though AIDS is just as horrible and life-shattering an epidemic now as it was then it’s no longer a shocking topic for theatre or art in general. How do you think that the loss of shock value has affected the reception of more recent productions of the show? What do you think the show has to offer now that this shock value and desire to call attention has passed?
Director, Adelaide Waldrop: When Millennium Approaches first premiered in 1990, AIDS had already been the subject of a few different plays, perhaps most notably in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (which premiered in 1985). However, what sets Angels apart is that it was the first play to deal with AIDS without being a play entirely centered around the AIDS epidemic. Instead, Kushner uses the topic of AIDS to investigate various elements of the American (and human) psyche. While the subject of AIDS is arguably less taboo nowadays (at least in Western culture) than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, the themes that are explored through a theatrical depiction of HIV/AIDS remain powerful and moving forces in any drama. The horrors of disease, the struggles of the dying, the effects on those caring for the dying — Kushner explores all of these aspects of sickness. In Angels we see Kushner advocate not for accepting those dying of AIDS, but rather learning to live with the disease, and accepting it as a common enemy against which people must rally.
I don’t think Kushner’s main goal in writing Angels was to publicise or problematise the AIDS epidemic specifically, but more to explore what it can reveal about the larger cultural identity of America, or (as it’s called in the show) ‘the melting pot where nothing melted’.
Tribe Theatre: As I understand it, the main climaxes of the work come during the second part of the show, Perestroika, not during Millennium Approaches, the half you are putting on. What have you done to give the first part a sense of conclusion and climax since, presumably, you aren’t presenting the second half?
Adelaide: While a lot of the more dramatic moments happen in Perestroika (characters wrestling angels in mid-air, a character climbs a flaming ladder to heaven, etc.), Millennium Approaches is definitely the more tightly constructed play. The whole show is a constant build towards a final climactic moment (I won’t spoil it here!). In addition to that, Millennium Approaches — as the name indicates — particularly deals with the sense of a build-up towards the dawn of the third millennium. Though a lot of the conflicts aren’t fully resolved in this part of the show, it ends on a climactic note that I think is even more exciting because it asks more questions than it answers.
Tribe Theatre: From what I’ve read, this show involves a lot of pop culture and political references relative to the time it was written and put on stage. Twenty-three years later do you think that these references will have any resonance with a group of people who, for the most part, were born after this time? Have you attempted to edit these references or have you preserved them? Why?
Adelaide: The show does have a lot of cultural references specific to the setting — not just the 1980s but America as well. However, I haven’t changed any of them because I think they’re key to establishing the setting of the play. Also, Kushner uses all small parts of the script, like certain cultural references, to make thematic connections between themes. That’s a very important aspect of how the play works, so I wanted to be sure to keep all those elements.
Angels in America goes up the 17th, 18th, and 19th of April in Venue 1.
Tickets can be reserved on their Facebook event.
Or purchased through the Union Website: www.yourunion.net/events
Interview by Emily Grant
Photo credits go to Angels in America: Millenium Approaches