Angels in America: Part One

DATELINE: Where’s My Roy Cohn?

  We’re No Angels!

Can it be that 15 years after the Mike Nichols-HBO depiction of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that it has new life?

Give credit to Donald Trump or damn him to hell for resurrecting his mentor, long-dead Roy Cohn.

The main character in Angels in Americais Cohn, as played by Al Pacino, in a fire-brand, brilliant performance while still in his salad days. In the first chapter he has only two scenes: one to start the episode, and one to finish. But he is what hooks you to begin the mini-series of an award-winning play—and his extraordinary scene with James Cromwell at the end will bring you back.

What’s in between is somewhat pedestrian gay:  a Mormon couple (Mary-Louise Parker and Patrick Wilson) are in discord because he may well be a closet case gay man in 1985. Counter this with a Jewish law clerk Louis (Ben Shenckman) and his HIV positive boyfriend Prior (Justin Kirk). They are cute and tortured by their inner gay demons.

We give Nichols credit for playing this up with references to Wizard of Oz and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s pure gay counter-culture.

The actors are transcendent with characters who are not. Yet, the openness of the sexual lives is bracing, even today. To combine two hallucinations of characters who don’t know each other is nothing short of brilliant, cross-pollinating the subplots.

Yet, we are drawn to the foul-mouthed Cohn, nasty and demagogic, and though we see no Trump, we see what feeds the monster. His final exchange with his doctor, indicating he has liver cancer, not AIDS, and that he is not homosexual, but only fools around with men.

It is the massive unapologetic denial, lies upon lies, to feed self-delusion and feed media attention with distortion and misdirection. Episode One sets up a compelling situation for the remainder of the series.