First editions, heavily annotated throughout both volumes, as Kushner delves deep into the artistic and personal roots of his two-part masterpiece. He also provides extensive comments on how key characters and scenes took shape in his mind, especially the “all too real” Roy Cohn. “I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed writing a character as much as I enjoyed writing Roy. It scared me how much I enjoyed it.” In Act Two, Kushner observes that “Roy Cohn stayed loyal to McCarthy’s memory till the end of his life. Realizing that made me feel I could make a coherent dramatic character based on him.” They even have some common ground: when Cohn dismisses Cats Kushner concurs: “I think it’s ghastly.” The reactions to this character—even before the show opened–surprised even Kushner. “One day while I was waiting for Millenium to open on B’way I was walking down a street in Chelsea and two young guys, actors I guess, walked past me—and one of them was reading this scene to the other—with great pleasure, it seemed to me—‘Listen to this!’” It was the scene where Cohn learns he has AIDS. “That was a major early warning moment that my life had really changed.”
Another key character, Harper, “carries a spirit and possesses an enunciatory faculty that made it possible for me to work in a lyrical/dramatical vein.” Alongside the scene where Harper hallucinates Prior making himself up, Kushner tells us: “This scene is the first that wasn’t in the original outline with which I began writing. It just happened. And I think it changed the rules of the play for me.” When Prior tells an uneasy Louis about his worsening condition, Kushner explains “This is foreplay—most directors don’t understand that. It’s not that they’re about to fuck, but Louis abstracting like this is an old comfort for them both.” When Prior says “We who are about to die thank you,” Kushner notes, “Here the foreplay ends.”
In Perestroika, Kushner explains that he was surprised by the intense reaction to Millenium and he was “intimidated by that.” The death of his mother delayed his writing of Part Two, but in April 1991 “the rest of the play came pouring out. More than the play—the 1st draft was twice its present length!” Under the Emerson quote that introduces the work, Kushner explains “I started reading Emerson when I began work on Perestroika. I’d read “On Art” before but nothing else. Whitman led me to Emerson; I’ve never stopped reading him.” At the end of Act Two he writes: “Whew…Maybe when I’m really old and much more gaga than I currently am I will start to hear angels speaking and I’ll make a new version of this Act. Or one of them will tell me I got it right enough and leave it alone.” A fascinating, rich and deeply engaging source for understanding this American classic.
KUSHNER, Tony. Angels in America. A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Part One: Millenium, Part Two: Perestroika. New York: Theater Communications group, 1993, 1994. 2 volumes, 8°. Original green and brown boards; dust-jackets; photos tipped-in.