Seeing a New Disease but the Same Neglect in ‘Angels in America’

A starry selection of scenes from Tony Kushner’s 1993 classic discovers premonitions of another pandemic in the AIDS-era play.

By Jesse Green

Was ever a man so lordly brought so low? Having contracted the same deadly virus he formerly dismissed as someone else’s pandemic, he now lies in hospital, depending on a secret stash of experimental drugs unavailable to anyone else.

This is of course Roy Cohn, whose reptilian résumé includes stints as the Rosenbergs’ executioner, Nixon’s fixer and Donald J. Trump’s mentor.

You thought I meant someone else?

Certainly the creators of last night’s starry fund-raising film for amfAR — the American Foundation for AIDS Research — intended the double vision. “The Great Work Begins,” subtitled “Scenes From ‘Angels in America,’” is not only a benefit for the organization’s Covid-19 initiatives but also an indictment of the current administration’s cocktail of neglect and delusion in a public health crisis.

Actually, double vision doesn’t begin to encompass the multiplicity of marvels operating concurrently in the full work from which the scenes are excerpted: Tony Kushner’s two-part, seven-hour “gay fantasia on national themes.” Like all classics, it keeps changing as the light of new times strikes it from different angles.

Since 1993, when the first part opened on Broadway, “Angels in America” has been produced all over the world, been revived repeatedly in New York and London, been turned into a Mike Nichols mini-series and even an avant-garde opera. Often in these iterations it has seemed to be about AIDS, of course, for that is its instigating subject. Other times, its ecological, political, religious, romantic, communitarian or cosmological themes have taken precedence.

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