In his blog riley entry last Sunday on this site, “WHAT WOULD RANDY SHILTS HAVE
SAID?,” esteemed author and critic Tim Riley nearly gagged on the
hype for “Angels in America.” (So had I.) The reason for the hype, he
maintained, is that Tony Kushner’s play “is simply too ‘politically correct’ to criticize,” which made
it “much easier for everyone to simply jump on the bandwagon.”
He’s right about that and about the gushing infatuation with Kushner as “a brand name Gay
Jewish intellectual,” per the examples of the New Yorker magazine’s less-than-stellar TV writer,
Nancy Franklin, and its formidable theater critic, John Lahr, both of whom fell over themselves to
see who could offer higher praise.
But Riley doesn’t have much love for “Angels” either, which is where we disagree. The play
“never worked for me, in ANY medium,” Riley wrote, “simply because it’s a) too long and
b) unfocused … even though I admired his a) humor (which is a BIG compliment) and b)
I suppose all of this is old news, except that “Angels” collected seven Golden Globule
nominations this morning, and HBO continues to air re-runs (although in hourly bites instead of
the original two-part broadcast of three hours each).
Riley is right again about the play’s length and lack of focus, but that’s true only for the first
three hours. (Yes, it does sound silly: Only for the first three hours?) The second three
hours were far better, largely because the sprawling plotlines and the many characters come
together in a tight, ingenious weave of relationships that feels exactly right. To achieve this
without the contrivances showing, which Kushner manages beautifully, is no small
As to Kushner’s leftwing slant and “politically correct” agenda, which have been cause for much complaint rather
different from Riley’s objections, I think the agenda in the most basic terms is this: To be in
the closet is to be a moral coward. If you’re in the closet, you’re bad news, pretty much no
damned good to yourself or to anyone else. You’re untrustworthy, unlovable and unloving, i.e. the
evil Roy Cohn (played by Al Pacino) and his disillusioned but still selfish protégé Joe
Pitt (played by Patrick Wilson).
To be out of the closet, or to come out of the closet, is to discover your humanity. If you’re
out of the closet, even if you’re untrustworthy, you’re not necessarily evil or unlovable, i.e.
Proctor’s lover Louis (played by Ben Shenkman), and you can still be saved from your
moral cowardice. This may be politically correct, but it’s also not a bad thing.