“The Great Work Begins”: The Reception and Relevance of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in a Millennial World

“The gospel of Angels in America is not to change the world, but to change the people in it; this is where “The Great Work Begins” and where the text reaches beyond the generation of its origin and into present and future generations (Kushner 290).”

Although there is much I could say about the critical merits of Angels in America (as made clear by my recently published article), I’d like to take a moment here to focus on my personal connection to the play. Before 2018, I had never heard of Tony Kushner or Angels. I had heard of queer theory in passing, as some distant concept, but I knew nothing more than the first few sentences of its Wikipedia entry will tell you. Although I had decided, in January 2018, that I would study English in graduate school, I didn’t feel a strong connection to any one theoretical pursuit. That’s when I stumbled upon Angels in America.

Angels in America changed the trajectory of my life. It was my gateway into queer literature (which I was desperate for after coming out in October 2017) and the work that set me on the path to queer theory. More than that, Angels spoke to a part of me–a large part–that was terrified and lost in a world that felt increasingly violent, tumultuous, and unsustainable. It offered me, as it has offered so many others over the past few decades, genuine hope against all odds. It showed me that those who suffer can still survive, can still thrive, can still find happiness. Most importantly, it revealed to me characters capable of change–slow change, perhaps, and incremental, but change nonetheless–for the better. Today, in a country that faces dangerous polarization, that vision is extremely significant.

In writing this article, I was not only applying Kushner’s 1990s messages to the present national context, I was reminding myself to see hope where only despair seemed to exist. It was a constant battle to keep moving–through the article and through life itself–as the news grew bleaker. By the end of 2018, I found myself relating to Harper as I never had before, and I believe that her hopelessness (near the beginning of the play) is a feeling many today can relate to. But it is still Prior, the bleeding heart at the center of the maelstrom, that I find myself drawn to. When he blesses the audience with “More Life,” there is a fierce hope in his words, a sense of defiance against helplessness, and it is that feeling that I reminded myself to fight to maintain. Ultimately, I believe that Kushner himself, through the play, tries to instill within us the courage to continue the fight for hope. It is with this in mind that I finish this article:

“…there will always be times of great terror, of disillusionment, of hopelessness, and Angels in America will continue to give voice to those times, as it does now. Texts may rise and fall in popularity, but the message of Angels in America endures: “More Life” (Kushner 290).”

Full article may be found in Mānoa Horizons.

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