Angels in America
Study Questions and Essay Topics
Many of the gay characters struggle with the question of how public their sexuality should be, and several come out in different ways over the course of the play. Discuss the meaning of the closet—are closeted characters different from uncloseted ones? What implications does coming out have for self and community?
"It's law not justice," Joe tells Louis during their final breakup. Discuss the themes of law and justice in the play. Is Joe correct that the two are separate entities? Or does the play encourage us to see a more visionary potential for the law?
The character of Belize stands out as exceptionally compassionate and good and yet at times seemingly two-dimensional. Which view is correct? Is Belize a virtuous stereotype or a complex moral authority?
Suggested Essay Topics
What could Kushner have meant in subtitling his work "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes"? What national themes might he be referring to? And what is the relationship between "gay" and "national" in the play?
One of the play's most interesting techniques is the "split-screen" method, in which two or more sets of characters in different locations appear onstage simultaneously, their words even overlapping at times. Choose a few specific examples of this technique. What is the effect of splitting the stage rather than dividing events into two or more scenes? How does the "split-screen" contribute to connections between characters and broad themes?
Perestroika, a Russian word meaning "reconstruction" or "reorganization," was the term for Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of political and economic reform in the Soviet Union. In what ways does the play represent the possibility of perestroika in America? Is this an appropriate title for Part Two?
Choosing at least two examples (the Rosenberg trial, the San Francisco earthquake, Chernobyl, the Reagan administration), analyze the role of history in the play. Does Kushner depict events more or less as they happened? If not, what dramatic and thematic purposes does he serve by shading the facts?
As a "fantasia," Angels in America is a major departure from prevailing theatrical realism, with detours into the religious and the supernatural—angels, ghosts, apparitions and visions appear over and over. What effect do these fantastical elements have on the play as a whole? Go beyond a simple analysis of plot to consider the implications for characters, messages and themes.
Different characters in the play speak in different, easily recognizable modes—from Louis's elaborate run-on sentences to Belize's campy use of French—yet all are capable of breaking into a stylized, poetic manner of speech. Analyze Kushner's treatment of dialogue in the play: what are the functions of this poetic style versus ordinary prosaic speech? How do speaking styles contribute to meaning and theme? Focus on one or two specific scenes rather than generalizing about the play as a whole.
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