When Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993, the Regan era and the full-bore ravages of AIDS in America were not far behind us. The play, at least as it is (faithfully, I’ve read) adapted in the 2003 HBO mini-series, deals with several emotionally churning themes – love, death, disease, the end of the Cold War, American assimilationism…well, those last two are emotional hot-button issues for some people. The HBO series was highly praised, and when I watched the first part on a DVD, I was taken with it. There was drama, there was suspense, there were spectacular sights and portents of great meaning.
There were also fine actors: Al Pacino was great playing the “pole star of evil,” Roy Cohn, the right-wing hatchet man and all around corrupt operator, who hid is homosexual nature, or as he said, the fact that he “likes to fuck around with guys,” and that he was dying of AIDS. Meryl Streep does her chameleon thing, playing several roles, but even though I am thoroughly used to that, her portrayal of a ratty orthodox rabbi in the opening knocked me out. Jeffrey Wright was great as Cohn’s nurse and the friend to all.
But that was not enough. Part II barely kept my attention, it petered out in a fit of sentimentality; the boy gets boy, boy loses boy plot lines were tedious, and one of the main characters, the guilt-ridden politico-Jew who abandons his AIDS stricken lover, was boring, trite, and basically repellent. In the end, I felt I’d been had: What was that mess about anyway? We should all be nicer to one another? Without Pacino, I don’t think I could have made it through the show. Thank you Roy Cohn for a wonderful experience.