Angels in America: “Messenger”

DATELINE: Ghost of Ethel Meets Ghoul of Cohn 

 Streep & Pacino

The third episode of the miniseries Angels in America takes us to the hallucinogenic, paranormal world where Louis (Ben Shenkman) insists in his liberal way that there are no angels in America.

On the other hand, the evil Roy Cohn is the devil in America, dying of AIDS like the saintly Prior whose survival seems preordained by some supernatural force. He is to “Prepare” for an event of monumental proportions:  this is foreshadowed when two ancestor ghosts show up in his bedroom to give him a Dickensian warning.

Emma Thompson is his down to earth nurse, but she speaks in tongues (only to the ears of Prior (Justin Kirk). He is also seeing Talmudic eruptions of Torah as he prepares for the descent (or is it an ascent?).

If you have held on to this point, you will be hooked by the mixed metaphors of paranormal and political messages in crossover.

The episode builds to one of the most astounding special effects dramas and ghost stories in American literature. And, however uncomfortable the sexual situations are, they are part of the political whirlwind of America. Roy Cohn was a hypocritical gay man who worked with Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, associated with Edgar Hoover socially, and was responsible for the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg…

With Prior Walter ghosts from the Mayflower setting the stage, we are also about to see an Angel in America. Yet, for our money, the highlight of any film has to be a confrontation between Pacino’s Cohn and Streep’s Ethel Rosenberg. It is hilarious and horrifying—as ghost and her ghoul banter nastily. An extraordinary moment in movie history.

  Angels in America: “In Vitro”

DATELINE:  American Supernatural Powers 

 Pacino’s Satanic Roy Cohn!

The second episode of the mini-series Angels in America again uses some clever cross-cutting from director Mike Nichols to counter-point the two young relationships on the rocks: the gay couple (Jewish boy & Mayflower Prior) and the heterosexual Mormons (calling each other inexplicably ‘buddy’).

The connections between Louis and Joe as lawyers puts them together on occasion. Joe’s pill-popping wife refuses to come to grips with her husband’s latent sexual interests. All in all, the two couples seem ready to do battle in what may be a ridiculous waste of energy.

If Louis has a friend (in the person of a flamboyant black nurse—Jeffrey Wright), then Joe (Patrick Wilson) relies on the back-rubbing seduction of Roy Cohn (in the person of Al Pacino).

Pacino has one satanic scene in this episode, but he is so dominant and frightful that he is unforgettable, even citing Mafia words like “familiglia” as his favorite. And, Meryl Streep makes her first of two role appearances at the mother of Mormon Joe. The best is yet to come.

Again, it is the political element from a drama twenty years old that resonates today: Cohn wants protection from being disbarred. He will place cute Joe into the Reagan Administration to give him an insider cover.

The talk is putting crypto-Nazi political plans of Cohn into place to last generations. It is sentient almost to a terrifying degree—as it predates Cohn’s protégé Donald Trump putting these plans into fruition.

So, the predictive nature of this LGQBT play-unto-movie from 2003 may be the most-telling soothsaying bit of political spin out of the 20thcentury. The story is set in 1985 when AIDS was the virulent killer with no cure in sight. Cohn is laying groundwork to control the presidency and Supreme Court with his kind of American well into the 21st century–and far beyond the grave.

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.