Angels, Resurrected

There’s almost no end of dramatic adjectives that can be applied to the San Francisco LGBT community’s response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s. On health care, political, community, and creative fronts, the mobilization was swift, far-reaching, and (quite literally) world-changing. Among the most significant artistic responses to HIV and AIDS was Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, which premiered in 1990 and was on Broadway by 1993. The work, which won a Pulitzer, has been made into a motion picture, an opera, and a TV miniseries. An exhibit in San Francisco is devoted to the play; it includes manuscripts, original costumes and props, and video interviews. Performance group Theatre Shark is staging the work again as Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. The play itself contains only a handful of characters. There’s a gay couple, a nominally straight couple, and an angel, among others. Nearly all the characters are hiding or struggling with big issues, including sexuality, religion, and AIDS. One character is Roy Cohn, an infamous conservative lawyer who in real life was instrumental in the Cold War “red scare” of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Cohn was also a closeted gay man who died of AIDS in 1986 (although he claimed to the end to have liver cancer). Despite the dark times in which it was written, the play ends on a decidedly optimistic note. Theatre Shark’s aim is to look back at the ways the crisis bound and defined a community while also calling attention to the ongoing health concerns with HIV/AIDS. Associated with the play is the “Be an Angel” photo campaign, which lets people donate money in exchange for a professional photo of themselves wearing angel wings and revealing their HIV status. “By openly sharing, it helps defuse negative stigmas associated with HIV,” the Theatre Shark website says. Sounds a lot like what Kushner was doing with Angels.
Thu., May 12, 7 p.m., 2011

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