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December 05, 2003 - Image 111

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Above: Al Pacino, left, portrays
real-lift Jewish lawyer Roy Cohn,
a closeted homosexual suffering with
AIDS; employing the play's technique
of actors doubling up on roles, Meryl
Streep, above right, plays Ethel
Rosenberg; as well as a Mormon
mother and a rabbi (see inset, center).

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1,6,

gay experience. Meryl Streep plays
Hannah Pitt, Joe's mother, who comes to
New York to set her son straight.
Meanwhile, Joe goes to work for a
powerful attorney in the Justice
Department, Roy Cohn (Al Pacino),
who has AIDS but denies it. Cohn, a
closeted homosexual, believes only the
weak and powerless get the disease.
(The Cohn character is based on the
real-life attorney and conservative ide-
ologue who came to prominence dur-
ing the Rosenberg spy trials and
McCarthy hearings of the 1950s and
died of AIDS in 1986.)
Meanwhile, Prior sees an angel
(Emma Thompson), who tells him he
must become a prophet. God has aban-
doned his Creation, she says, and the
angels are rudderless. Prior has been
chosen to turn the world around.
"All the various backgrounds of the
characters are important," says
Shenkman. "While there are individ-
ual stories, [the play] shows the tapes-
try of America.
"Louis, my character, is a Jewish
grandson of immigrants (Part 1 opens
with a rabbi delivering the eulogy at
Louis' grandmother's funeral), Prior
comes from a blue blood WASP-y fami-
ly and Joe is a Mormon. Their ethnic
identities are important for the whole
piece to come together."
Shenkman says he identifies with his
character. "Not only are we both
Jewish, but my grandparents were
Russian immigrants," says Shenkman,
who was raised as a secular Jew in
Washington, D.C.
Since Angels in America addresses the
beginning of the AIDS crisis, the question
has been raised whether the play is still as

I

relevant today as when it debuted.
Shenkman doesn't hesitate to respond.
"When Angels in America was first
done in the 1990s, the AIDS crisis was
an immediate problem, and the play
was a real shout for attention," he says.
"It may not have quite that same imme-
diacy in people's lives today, but AIDS
and everything about it is still a univer-
sal problem.
"[Angels] is a terrific story with a
tremendous amount of wit and emotion
that people find electrifying. It's a very
important piece of drama." 0

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Emma Thompson is "The Angel," who
offers challenging messages from Heaven.

HBO airs Part 1, Angels in
America: Millennium Approaches,
8-11 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7; and
Part 2, Angels in America:
Perestroika, 8-11:05 p.m. Sunday,
Dec. 14. Check your local listings
or www.hbo.com for additional
screenings through mid-January.

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