Twenty years ago, Angels in America, the landmark play about being gay and living with HIV/AIDS in the pre-antiretroviral era, took the stage in San Francisco. In 1993, the play ran on Broadway and won the Tony for best actor (Ron Leibman), best featured actor (Stephen Spinella), best director (Tony Kushner) and best play, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama. And in 2003, it was adapted into an HBO miniseries starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep that went on to win a then-record 11 prime-time Emmys.
Writer and director Tony Kushner recently sat down with NPR's Neal Conan to talk about the play's cultural significance then and now: How the country has changed since he wrote the play, his thoughts on the play being taught and performed in schools today, and his speculations on what may have happened to some of the characters after the play ended.
Here are a couple of highlights from the NPR interview:
"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." ...
... "There's been immense progress in terms of [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights, obviously, and we're in a very different place now [than] we were in the early '90s. And in my lifetime, I've seen unbelievable progress. And I have great optimism and absolute certainty that we're going to become fully enfranchised and protected by the 14th Amendment and so on. But in the meanwhile, we're not there yet. And there's still a tremendous amount of homophobia."