Tony Kushner’s original impulse that led to Angels in America was an idea for a musical based on the life of Roy Cohn (1927-1986). The idea had come from reading an article in the leftwing The Nation that seemed to gloat over Cohn’s death from AIDS, prompting Kushner to wonder, as a very leftwing gay man, if he could find some sort of solidarity in someone he considered a major villain of the 20th century.
Roy Cohn first gained national prominence as legal counsel to Red-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy (a job he beat out Robert Kennedy to win) at the tender age of 24, on the recommendation of J. Edgar Hoover. He had received his law degree from Columbia when he was 20, and had already played a significant (decisive, in his opinion) role in the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. It was his desire to get special treatment for his friend and fellow McCarthy aide David Schine that led to McCarthy’s public shaming in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. After resigning from McCarthy’s staff, Cohn went into private practice in New York City, where he became a political and social celebrity. He dated the young Barbara Walters, had a client list that included Donald Trump, mobsters Carmine Galante and John Gotti, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. A registered Democrat throughout his life, he worked mostly with conservative causes and served as an informal adviser to many politicians, including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, whom he considered a friend.
Sound bites taken from From an interview with Neal Conan, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” September 12, 2011
“During ... the Reagan years, there was a sort of sea change taking place in American politics — and then, as it turned out, in European politics as well, and ultimately in global politics, that we were entering a new period where old reliables were going to be overthrown, and a new way of looking at the world was at hand. And it wasn’t necessarily an appealing way of looking at the world, at least for me... There was a sense that something was coming and it might be something great, and might be something terrible ...
“I feel, going back now, that the early ‘90s, the late ‘80s, for all the horrors of the AIDS epidemic, were comparatively innocent and carefree times compared to where we are now. In the mid-’80s when I wrote the play, it included things about ‘eco-cide,’ about the collapse of the ozone layer. I really didn’t believe in my heart of hearts that the human race was now threatening the survival of life on the planet. There’s now absolutely no doubt that that’s the case... It’s completely clear that what we were beginning to get worried about in the ‘80s was very serious and very real things ... so the play, and the times, both feel darker to me now than they did back then.”
Angels in America was an unlikely candidate to become a hit play in the early 1990s: a 7-hour epic focusing mostly on the lives of five gay men (two of them closeted Republicans) and the Valium-addled Mormon woman married to one of the closeted men; “a Gay Fantasia on National Themes” including democracy, socialism, the immigrant nature of American identity, Jewish mysticism, and what Leo Tolstoy called “the American religion,” Mormonism. The critic David Savran described it shortly after its Broadway success:
“Bringing together Jews and Mormons, African- and European-Americans, neoconservatives and leftists, closeted gay men and exemplars of America’s new ‘queer politics,’ Angels attempts nothing less than the creation of a cosmic-scale history of America in the age of Reagan and the age of AIDS.… Exploring the sometimes tortuous connections between personal identity (sexual, racial, religious or gender) and political position, it dramatizes the seeming impossibility of maintaining one’s private good in a world scourged by public greed, disease and hatred.”
Our Production Dramaturg William Steinberger has pulled some key quotes from Sam Shepard. We will share Mr. Shepard's thoughts about his past, his family, and himself.
Sam Shepard on himself:
“I’ve heard writers talk about ‘discovering a voice,’ but for me that wasn’t a problem. There were so many voices that I didn’t know where to start. It was splendid, really; I felt kind of like a weird stenographer. I don’t mean to make it sound like hallucination, but there were definitely things there, and I was just putting them down. I was fascinated by how they structured themselves, and it seemed like the natural place to do it was on a stage. A lot of the time when writers talk about their voice they’re talking about a narrative voice. For some reason my attempts at narrative turned out really weird. I didn’t have that kind of voice, but I had a lot of other ones, so I thought, Well, I’ll follow those. – The Paris Review, 1997
Our lambs for Curse of the Starving Class arrived safely last Saturday! We thought it would be nice to give everyone some background on our new friends.
The lambs used in this production are purebred Southdowns which are known for their gentle disposition. They were removed from their mothers because the mothers delivered more babies than she could raise. They are healthy, bottle fed lambs and every effort is being made to ensure their continued health. They are owned by the Manatawna/Saul 4-H Club which is located here in Philadelphia. Members of the club are carefully monitoring the care of the animals while they are with the theater.