45 Books in 2018 Post Script #49: The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels In America

This will probably be the last book I review this year. (Though I’ll probably read at least 2 more before New Year’s.) My “favorites” will take up the next few days, most likely.

Anyway, I’m glad it’s this one, since given that list happening, Angels In America won’t get discussed again.

Which would not have been the case a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, though, I hadn’t seen Springsteen On Broadway, so Angels had been the highlight of my theatrical year. Now, it’s not even “My favorite piece of theater I saw in 2018 that is a meditation on the character of America.” (And I saw Broadway shows that set out explicitly to this, because I also saw Hamilton again.)

The World Only Spins Forward is a lovely, thoughtful chronicling of the story of Angels In America, beginning with Tony Kushner’s poem written around Reagan’s second election, and ending with a the announcement of the 2017 National Theatre production’s transfer to New York.

My favorite thing about theater is that a play is a living organism, and that it’s communal. So telling the story of Angels as an oral history is not only necessary, but a potent reminder of that fact. The kids who bled for the Eureka, Julliard and NYU workshops, who were eulogizing their friends and lovers who’d died of AIDS view the text very differently, than say, a 36 year old British movie star taking on the role of Prior in 2017. (Just to give a for instance.)

Of course, reading the book had me pulling out my copy of the plays. (Tie in edition to the HBO mini-series) and rewatch the series. (It not being a week after I saw the play has returned some of the potency to the TV version. Mary-Louise Parker will always be my Harper DAMNIT!)

For all of it’s virtues, though, there are parts of the book that grind a bit. For one thing, you could tell that these were theater people being interviewed in 2016 because they’re all talking about Hamilton a lot for a book that’s supposed to be about Angels In America. (I mean I get it. I’m pretty sure 90% of my conversations that year were about Hamilton. And I’m not even a theater professional). We hear at least seven times about Roy Cohn’s realtionship with Trump. (Which again, kind of important when discussing how the play has remained politcally relevant, but you don’t need to keep bringing it up.) I wish there’d been more discussion of Tony Kushner’s socialism, because I find it fascinating and I think it deeply informs Angels. (The strain of socialism in upper-middle class white academic males is of endless fascination to me. Probably because most of the academics I know are women, and most the upper-middle class white men I know are middle management types. None of them are socialists. Like, AT ALL.)

So much of this year for me was about rediscovering how to react to art, rather than just pop culture. I took pains to read more, watch more judiciously, listen to deeper music and think more. But it was also the year I really started to live my life openly as a queer woman. My bi-sexuality still feels like a new wrinkle of myself but revisiting the stories of queerness that had spoken to me all my life, echoing back even to when I wasn’t sure why they did, was a big help in at least giving me the emotional vocabulary to deal with it.

Which is why I’m glad to have gotten to live in Angels In America a lot this year. That’s what it meant to me. It was about being queer and American, a thing I so recently admitted to myself that I am. I mean, it’s about so many things, but it’s about that. “We will be citizens,” and all that jazz.

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