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Angels in America

KC Kenney | Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It was well-received by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism when it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. It was well-received by Broadway when it was awarded two Tony Awards. It was well-received in 2003 when it was produced as a mini-series on HBO, won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe and was charted as the most watched made-for-TV movie of 2003. One question remains: will “Angels In America” be well received by the University of Notre Dame?In the first of this two-part, six-hour play, Tony Kushner brings to the stage the lives of several homosexual men in New York City in 1985 as they come to grips with their relationships, the threat of AIDS, the challenges of acceptance and the political climate of the country. The play opens tonight at Washington Hall in association with St. Edward’s Hall Players, and it is directed by senior Steve Hoeplinger. The Princeton Review cites Notre Dame as tops in the “Alternative Lifestyles Not An Alternative” category, claiming it to be the least accepting campus in the country when it comes to homosexuals. A recent poll on NDToday of nearly 4,000 students still had 53 percent commenting that to be gay was “not ‘fine by me.'” Why, then, is this the time for a show such as “Angels In America” to be shown at Notre Dame? Hoeplinger sees a means of resolution to be sourced in theater. “I looked at how intolerant and unaccepting this campus is of gay people,” he said. “I believe that theater can be used as a means of conflict resolution.” For Adam Bonosky, who plays Joe Pitt, a married Mormon who comes to recognize that he is gay, the show “opened [his] eyes into that internal struggle … the everyday things.” A common view of many members of the cast is that this show, with its multi-dimensional portrayal of the lives and struggles of these characters, will help open some eyes and minds on the campus.”Angels” opens at the funeral of Louis Ironson’s mother. Ironson, played by junior Joe Garlock, is a neurotic, openly-homosexual Jewish court clerk. His lover, Prior Walter, fears and later learns that he is sick with a new syndrome that affects his immune system, a syndrome that comes to be commonly called AIDS. At the same time, Joe Pitt, a low-paid Mormon prosecutor for the public court is offered a new and lucrative position by his boss in Washington. Pitt doubts the move, however, due to the fragile emotional state of his wife, a hallucinating Valium addict whose life does not extend beyond their apartment except in her mind. Pitt’s boss, real-life McCarthyist Roy Cohen, has ulterior motives in mind, hoping to use Pitt’s appointment in Washington to his own corrupt advantage. Pitt, portrayed by second-year architecture student Adam Bonosky, is torn in many directions as he attempts to help his wife, please his mentor and struggle with intensifying feelings towards other men that do not fit into his strict Mormon lifestyle. Lena Caligiuri, a senior film, theatre and television major, plays his disturbed, pill-popping wife and Scott Wagner plays his boss and mentor, a man that tries to hide his own homosexual tendencies with an excessive, masculine image and drowning himself in work.As Prior’s illness worsens, he finds himself visited by ghosts and hearing the voice of an ever-approaching angel. Andre Valdivia plays the desperate and tragic character of Prior, whose situation only worsens when his lover, Ironson, leaves him. Cohen is also diagnosed with the “syndrome” and told that it is giving him cancer, as well as other symptoms. As Pitt tries to share with his wife the revelation of his sexual orientation as he slowly arrives at it himself, she continues to slip into her drug-enduced madness, at times sitting alone in the dark unable to function. Pitt meets Ironson and his relationships with both Ironson and Cohen begin to flourish a somewhat perverted romantic sense as his denial and rejection of who he is prevents him from sharing himself fully with either of them. The action builds toward the arrival of the Angel, an ethereal figure prophesied to arrive at the beginning of the show. At the heart of these torrid affairs and conflicting relationships is a sense of humanity and tragedy that evoke feelings of sympathy that go beyond sexual orientation into the more universal community of mankind. Kushner’s “characters are written so realistically that you can’t help but identify and feel for them,” said Hoeplinger. It is in this sympathy that an accord begins to be drawn between the characters on stage and the members of the audience. Bonosky sees the show as “not simply about homosexuality … but creating an identity for oneself, coming to terms with oneself … I want to sympathize with [Pitt] … I can sympathize with the torment.”One of Caligiuri’s great struggles with the role of Harper Pitt was the creation of a character so consistently in a state of manic brooding, marked by erratic mood swings. The role has been “taking an emotional toll on my life outside of this play, and I don’t think there was anyway around that … I had to make the sacrifice and go to that place of her demons torturing her constantly, and its very hard to turn demons on and off. It’s hard to not take it home with you.” Despite the internalized sympathizing with Harper, Caligiuri is able to create a substantial and compelling character. Likely to be one of the “firecrackers” of the show and a potential source of controversy is the portrayal of Garlock’s character engaging in homosexual intercourse with a stranger in Central Park. “When I first read the play, [Ironson] was the one character that I didn’t want to be because I didn’t know if I could do it,” Garlock said. Upon being cast as Ironson, he quickly had to grow accustomed to the power this scene has on the overall play, creating a psychological experience for both character and audience alike that leaves both scarred and shaken. The show is difficult to put on in any venue. Technically, it is meant to be incredibly complex and intricate, a feat that is difficult to accommodate at Washington Hall. In addition, while the writing of Kushner is brilliant, with commentary ranging from political themes to homosexuality to personal struggles with deep inner demons, the play brings with it many monologues that have a tendency to get away from the actors. They have created an emotionally trying and moving show. While the actors are at times inconsistent, they are able to convincingly portray characters meant to create sympathy and unify them with the audience.Hoeplinger hopes that people will leave the theater and take the show with them. “I’d like to see people affected by it, challenged by it, rethink opinions they’ve had their entire lives,” he said. “If someone is struggling with these issues in their own life, I’d like them to take comfort from this, that they aren’t alone. I’d like to see people talk about it. I would rather people have conversations with each other than simply ranting against each other through The Observer with printed name-calling.”