Discussing plays in reading groups is both rewarding and frustrating. It’s rewarding since readers can go back to the stage directions and descriptions and speeches and reread them slowly or with more focus. It’s frustrating because sometimes no matter how often a passage is reread, the only way to understand it is to see it performed.
The last session of the KCPL Jewish American Literature book group, Demons, Golems, and Dybbuks: Monsters of Jewish Imagination, concluded with the Pulitzer prize-winning drama, Angels in America by Tony Kushner.
Participants read the entire production, Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika and had plenty to say about it.
The weather wasn’t very accommodating, but the hearty souls who made it to Waldo happily dissected the play in a myriad of ways. Discussion leader, Ben Furnish, provided the customary research on the selection—author information, related works, historical context, and what it is that gives this specific writing a place in Jewish-American Literature.
Ben pointed out that Angels in America is actually a second generation AIDS play and cited Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart as a first generation AIDS play. Ben also posed a question to the group, is the play too topical and does this matter? Most said that the play was dated, but that it didn’t matter. Certain themes are permanent, such as betrayal, family, friendship, and redemption.
One reader thought that even if the play did seem out of date, the absurdity of some of the situations would be enhanced as time went on, giving the play an added dimension for discussion. Another pointed out that all the characters inflict guilt in one way or another and the degree of guilt may alter as time marches on.
Attendees also pondered the question of the play’s relevance if a cure for AIDS was discovered. Would Angels in America lose its place in theatrical literature?
Parallels were drawn between the experiences of gays and immigrants and readers wondered if either group had made special efforts to blend into the existing culture or more efforts to make the culture change to adopt the two groups.
There were many more points raised among the attendees. Angels in America may have been the most challenging text of the series, but all of the readers found something new in the written form that had not been noticed in the live performance.
The group exited the building wishing each other tolerance, peace, and good health for the coming new year. A fitting end to the series.