In order to gain more insight into the creation of the play and Tony Kushner’s personal experiences that influenced it, I’ve included different sections from multiple interviews with him over the years.
The Seattle Times sat down with Kushner and asked about where the image of the angel came from (2014).
“There was a dancer I had a crush on in college, who got AIDS and died early in the epidemic. The night I found out he died, I dreamt he was in bed in pajamas and this angel crashed through the ceiling, and he was terrified. I decided to write a poem, which I almost never do, and titled it ‘Angels in America.’”
Apparently he has never looked at the poem, or shared it with anyone else, since the day he wrote it. I found the fact that the figure of the angel, arguably the most prominent figure of the play, came from Kushner’s dream very interesting. Dreams, visions, and escape from reality are concepts that Kushner explores deeply throughout the play. Many of the characters, including Harper and Prior seem to constantly be straddling both the real world and that of fantasy, even entering into one another’s hallucinations/dreams. I can imagine that the fact that this image came to him in a dream influenced his decision to include such elements of fantasy, visions, and dream-states in the play.
Kushner goes on to explain that as a medieval studies major, he has “always been fascinated by the angels’ intersessional role between the human and the divine”. They act as a liaison, as messengers between god and people. In Angels in America the angel comes to Prior as just that. She delivers the message that change must be stopped, as the progress made by mankind thus far has forced God to abandon heaven.
In an interview with Yale Literary Magazine (2013) he discusses why each time the angel refers to herself it begins with “ I I I I”.
“Because she’s actually four beings in one. She’s not a single entity, she’s an aggregate entity. That’s been part of the angelological lore for a very long time, that you can’t really think of them as being singular beings. In the Holy Scriptures, and also in Revelations, they frequently appear as weird things: wheels of fire, and myriads of eyes, multiple wings, multiple heads. They’re not human beings with wings, they’re something else”.
The angel image is far more complex than one would first expect. When reading the play, I didn’t pay much attention to this repetition of “I”. This repetition subtly allows for the character of the angel to become more dynamic, complicated, and fantastical. It enforces the understanding that they are certainly not “human beings with wings, they’re something else”.
In anticipation of our conversation of the role of Mormonism on Sunday, here is Kushner’s, rather unexpected and simplistic, response to how Mormonism entered the play during a New York Magazine interview (2008).
“There were these Mormon missionaries that I used to see at my subway stop, in Carroll Gardens, around 1983. One of them was, I thought, kind of hot. They were always there in the morning, in front of a bunch of people who could have cared less about the Book of Mormon. And I was kind of touched by that.”
Relating to religion, in a 1993 interview with Bomb Magazine, Tony Kushner explains that he is “an honest to god agnostic”.
“I’m in a position of constant confusion about it. I don’t understand how to incorporate the existence of evil into any theological system, I just don’t… and justice is something that I do believe in. Louis says in Angels that justice is God.”
In the play we see Kushner challenging and questioning religion, pitting religions against one another, and exploring ideas of evil, justice, and God. We have characters who are Mormon, Jewish, politically and morally corrupt, amongst other labels. What is Kushner suggesting about religion, especially in the face of an epidemic? Or in the face of a politically and socially evolving America?