Although Angels in America by Tony Kushner hones in on the tragedy of the AIDS crisis, the play’s absurdism makes the text more accessible while simultaneously creating a binary between fantasy and tragedy.
One of the reoccurring symbols in the play, the angel, invites camp discussions into the text. For example, when the angel first visits Prior as The Voice, it says, “Soon I will return, I will reveal myself to you; I am glorious, glorious; my heart, my countenance and my message. You must prepare” (Kushner 65). At first, the angel’s voice seems like it will present an outstanding spiritual message that will act as a guiding light for Prior. However, the Angel presents itself in a camp way, speaking elaborately in metaphors, and in Part II addressing Prior as a Prophet, saying wild phrases like, “Am the Bird of America, the Bald Eagle” that don’t make much sense to the reader (Kushner 160). With pieces like this, the angel is reduced to its camp form, as a being inside Prior’s mind that makes the play more accessible and pulls away from the tragedy of AIDS.
The angel’s camp and sometimes outlandish actions bring balance to the play. Without humor from the angel, Prior’s narrative could be reduced to “another story about the tragedy of AIDS”, however the play refuses to simplify its characters, and the angel aids in that process.
Even just the word “angel” brings a duality to the play. For example, when Prior tells Louis he has AIDS, he says “K.S., baby. Lesion number one. Lookit. The wine dark kiss of the angel of death” (Kushner 21). Prior’s description of this angel contradicts itself in its beautiful “kiss”, but ultimate death sentence.
Additionally, although an angel is a holy, godly figure, it visits Prior, a gay man with AIDS. This detail demonstrates that the lines of good and evil aren’t clean cut, which is vital to the story of the AIDS crisis. For years, society viewed people with AIDS as subhuman, as lesser-than, even seeming dangerous to touch, in addition to the homophobia of the time.
Overall, the angel is necessary in order for the play to interest watchers/readers as well as speak truthfully on the impact of the AIDS crisis.