In 16th century Venice, when a merchant must default on a large loan from an abused Jewish moneylender for a friend with romantic ambitions, the bitterly vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment instead.
God has abandoned Heaven. It's 1985: the Reagans are in the White House and Death swings the scythe of AIDS. In Manhattan, Prior Walter tells Lou, his lover of four years, he's ill; Lou bolts. As disease and loneliness ravage Prior, guilt invades Lou. Joe Pitt, an attorney who is Mormon and Republican, is pushed by right-wing fixer Roy Cohn toward a job at the Justice Department. Both Pitt and Cohn are in the closet: Pitt out of shame and religious turmoil, Cohn to preserve his power and access. Pitt's wife Harper is strung out on Valium, aching to escape a sexless marriage. An angel invites Prior to be a prophet in death. Pitt's mother and Belize, a close friend, help Prior choose. Written by
There was a statement that was going through my head while watching "Angels in America": I know what art is when I see it. Just like art, this ambitious miniseries dares the viewer to have an opinion on the various subjects brought up by screenwriter/playwright Tony Kuchner.
I saw the miniseries one chapter at a time, which may or may not have been a good idea to get the full impact of the point. At least it did motivate me to read both of Kuchner's "Angels" plays.
I found it to be both a frustrating and challenging miniseries. There were the great performances by Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Justin Kirk, and Jeffrey Wright and the good performances by Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker, Patrick Wright and, in a small role, James Cromwell.
I find it rather humorous that some people thought Al Pacino was miscast as Roy Cohn. Though this is Kuchner's fictional view of Cohn and having seen the real Roy Cohn in television interviews, I though Pacino was not too far from the essence of who Cohn was: an ambitious but very bitter gay man in denial who helped his notable clients but was always out for himself. Cohn was rabid dog without a leash. This was Pacino's first television role and I though he did a great job. (Correction: Pacino's only television acting role prior to "Angels in America" and not including the edited version of "The Godfather Saga" was the short-lived but critically-acclaimed ABC drama "N.Y.P.D." (1967-69).
I did have a few problems with the mini-series. The role played by Ben Shenkman (Louis) was incredibly annoying. I heard that role is Tony Kuchner's alter ego. Louis redeems himself at the end but I found him to be a whiny, cowardly man who had difficulty counting his blessings. I loved it when after Louis' typically long diatribes, Belize (Jeffrey Wright) verbally put him down with a just a few words.
In both plays, many of the actors played multiple roles. It seems more of a gimmick on the small screen, though I think Streep and Wright fared best.
The always dependable Thomas Newman has fashioned a haunting musical score. It was minimalistic and very memorable. The theme has been on my mind ever since I first heard the theme when the miniseries won various awards at the Golden Globes. (Update: The miniseries received 21 Emmy nominations and won a record (for miniseries) 11 Emmys. For some mysterious reason, Newman's brilliant score was overlooked.)
I don't see this play adapted for the big screen without chopping a lot of things out. Congratulations to Mike Nichols and the cast and crew for taking a chance adapting "Angels in America" to television.
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