Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1995) deals with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, depicting the stages three entangled couples go through while they are confronted with the disease. Dealing with such a serious and even grave topic, the play is expected to be realistic. What is somehow startling for the reader is, however, Kushner’s use of the supernatural in such a context. He indeed alternately inserts scenes depicting apparitions and taking place in dreams and hallucinations. This alternation between dream and reality effectively illustrates the characters’ often unstable state of mind. But it also gives the play a general sense of absurdity, and even, at times, a somehow burlesque quality, which needs to be examined in further detail.
Scene 7, Act I, is the first apparition scene of the play. Harper and Prior simultaneously appear in each other’s dreams, even though they have never seen each other. Kushner makes an extensive use of the lexical field of make-believe in this scene. This is indeed visible through the use of verbs such as “feigning,” “mimes,” “believe in,” “to make up”, and nouns such as “hallucination,” “dream,” “visions,” “untruthfulness,” “falseness,” “appearance,” “imagination,” as opposed to “the real world” (37: 38). Prior’s appearance in makeup, and references to a “theme party” and “drag” are also proof of the staging of a scene based on notions of unreality, that aims at unsettling the reader (37: 39). In contradiction with this particular semantic field, Prior and Harper both acknowledge that dreams can be “the very threshold of revelation sometimes” (39). Scene 7 indeed builds up the dramatical tension that will be at its peak in the last two scenes of the act. In terms of “revelations,” this is where Harper learns about her husband’s homosexuality, and where Prior is confronted with his sickness. And it is somehow contradictory that Kushner choses for such important revelations to take place in a scene staging a dream.