Tony Kushner, Upper West Side Oracle

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When it premiered on Broadway, “Angels” already had a rearview mirror quality. Until the very end, when the story enters the 90s, the scenes take place in 1985 and 86, in the middle of an era which already seemed, in 1993, to be fading. The GOP was no longer in the White House. Americans were still dying of AIDS in large numbers, but persistent activism had forced political and medical institutions to begin paying attention to the epidemic. When I taught the play to a class of college freshmen a few years later, they read it as a period play, something “in the 80s”. On a higher note, Yale’s literary panjandrum Harold Bloom included the piece in his idiosyncratic and bestselling “The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages” in 1994, a sign that the test of time was already passed. . The 2003 HBO screen adaptation, directed by Mike Nichols, confirmed that impression, identifying the characters with movie stars – Al Pacino as Roy Cohn, Meryl Streep as Ethel Rosenberg and Hannah Pitt – and giving the shine and the permanence of cinema in their stories.

But then, in the late 2010s, a few years after Barack Obama draped the National Medal of Arts over Kushner’s neck, “Angels” returned to the present. A major revival in 2017 galvanized audiences in London and then, the following year, in New York, where the play once again felt unmistakably topical: raw, disturbing and inescapable. Prior Walter’s closing vow that “we will be citizens” – an assertion of the visibility of homosexuals that seemed to have been confirmed by the victory of marriage equality in much of the Western world – took a different turn against a background of anti-immigrant agitation. Roy Cohn’s protégé Donald Trump was president. decency.

“It’s infinitely scarier now than it was in the ’80s,” Kushner says of his masterpiece today. “Complete with the plague. Having identified an aspect of our “unique catastrophe”, he still observes it. What is happening now is a further iteration of what was already happening. So, the 1963 of “Caroline, or Change” is not a version of the past that an audience in 2021 can look with complacency, congratulating themselves on how far they have come. The first thing you see on the Renewal Stage is a Confederate monument, a statue of the “Defender of the South” whose presence signifies the not-even-past of the past. And while there are charming period details – and echoes of the soul, pop and gospel sounds of the time in Tesori’s score – there is nothing dated about the piece itself. “Tony is pretty prophetic,” Clarke says. When the play moved to London in 2018 after it premiered in Chichester, England, the actress recalls passing by far-right racist protesters on her way to the theater. “After growing up as a British black child dealing with the National Front and the British National Party,” she said, “now I was going to work and dealing with Caroline and I could smell the eyes of the guys from the League. English defense watch me, wanting me not to be in the street, and just saying to themselves: “We haven’t moved”.

During the show’s long pandemic hiatus between London and Broadway, the United States was overwhelmed by the Black Lives Matter protests and plunged into yet another set of arguments over old themes: the relationship between law and law. order and white supremacy; the persistence of structural racism and racial inequalities; the deep historical roots of current injustice. People on stage are discussing these same questions, very much in the present and with their eyes turned to an ever-elusive future. Caroline’s teenage daughter, Emmie, is drawn to activism, and the boldness with which she voices her opinions worries her mother, who has learned to keep her head down and her thoughts to herself, at least towards whites. . At a Hanukkah dinner, where Emmie helps her mother serve latkes to the extended Gellman clan, Emmie is drawn into a debate with Rose’s father, an old-skinned leftist visiting from New York City. He scolds her for her militant insufficiency and despises the civil rights movement for being too peaceful, too slow, to bring about real change.


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