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Friday, August 29, 2014

"Getting It Right" or "Misses the Point"? Rebecca Brown's Controversial Stance on Angels in America

Posted by on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 at 11:01 AM

Angels in America in Seattle, with Marya Sea Kaminski above, Adam Standley below.
  • Angels in America in Seattle, with Marya Sea Kaminski above, Adam Standley below.

Have you read Rebecca Brown's remarkable, arguably heretical essay on Angels in America yet? You really should. The Seattle production continues through September 21—here's information on that. And here are two responses to Brown's piece.

Dear Ms. Brown,

As a gay man in his 60s who has been out since 1973 and lived through the early 1980s in Seattle, I truly appreciate not only your accurate gloss of the early '80s reality, but your accurate reference to Josh Joshua being among the founding members of the Chicken Soup Brigade.

I don't know whether you were an adult in the 1980s, but if you weren't, then you are even more remarkable for having dug up accurate information, and more importantly, correctly glossing the feel of the times. Though gay people were scared and angry, they were also resilient and incredibly resourceful in finding ways to take care of their own. The lesbian contributions were particularly substantial and often under-recognized in hind-site. Your article was the first I've read that identified the missing pieces in plays like Angels or The Normal Heart. All of the large emotions were there and real at the time. But in the midst of all that, people still went about living their lives and figuring out how to help. And there were lots of gay and lesbian people who worked in not-so-public but important ways to leverage what was available to help those in need. As you so clearly describe, it was not just a story of victimhood. It was also lots of other stories of compassion, resourcefulness and activism. Thanks for getting that right.

Tim Burak was also one of those people who "made things work," and was among the group largely from the Seattle Gay Clinic who hatched the idea and founded the Chicken Soup Brigade.

Thanks for getting it right,
Frank Chaffee

After the jump, another perspective.


Rebecca Brown misses the point about "Angels in America." It is not an AIDS play, no less the AIDS play. As the Author Tony Kushner has subtitled it, the play is a "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes."

Kushner is giving us a "midrash" (a Jewish term for a development of a moral principles) concerning right-wing politics, internalized anti-Semitism/homophobia, chemical escapism, America as a non-melting pot, McCarthyite excesses, and a host of other things. AIDS is used as an organizing principle for these ruminations—after all, it is a gay fantasia and AIDS did loom large when he was writing it.

And, sadly, AIDS did drive some folks away from their sick lovers; I saw it in my support group for caregivers.

Phil Bereano
co-founder, ACT/UP Seattle
(The author is a Member, Board of Trustees, Intiman Theatre but is writing solely in his personal capacity)


Comments (4) RSS

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TomJohnsonJr 1
I'm on Team Brown here. She articulated so much that I felt but could never cohere into thought. Now that I don't feel like I'm fundamentally broken for not loving it, I'm oddly much more willing to keep hurling myself at this play (Perestroika especially, oof) to try for a fresh experience.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on August 29, 2014 at 11:14 AM · Report this
fletc3her 3
Obviously the play is a "big deal". It's part of a festival with all sorts of affiliated events. It's the only production of the Intiman this year. The mayor was at the opening.

Even so I think it's a bit much to consider it the definitive play about AIDS. Just as it's a bit much to consider criticism of it or this staging as "heretical". I don't know plays that well, but certainly a great many books and films I'm familiar with have tackled different stories about AIDS. It's a big topic and there is no definitive story.

I thought Michael Strangeways' review did a good job for me of condensing some thoughts that I had after seeing the play. I'm not confident enough in my own opinions about plays, but looking back a lot of his review resonated with me.…

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the play and am looking forward to episode two. Even if it isn't the definitive play about AIDS or the definitive staging of Angels in America, I found the story very moving and the experience of seeing the play very enjoyable.
Posted by fletc3her on August 29, 2014 at 12:09 PM · Report this
All this reminds me of back when Showtime was running the American Queer As Folk. Some of my peers came unglued, because that show didn't tell the right story, didn't tell their story, was too sordid, it was not sordid enough, yada yada yada. The truth was, it was only one TV show. It could never be everything to everybody. So now one reviewer is unsatisfied because Angels in America doesn't tell the right story for her. Yawn. This is one theater piece, it's not the fucking Rosetta Stone. Andrew's staging of Act 1 is a dazzling, live, high wire accomplishment(pardon the pun). I'm looking forward eagerly to the conclusion. Angels can survive one churlish review. 'The world only spins forward,'
Posted by MyDogBen on August 29, 2014 at 12:20 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 5
It's kind of hilarious that the one that accuses her of missing the point focuses on the one phrase "the AIDS play" and skips everything else said in the essay.
Posted by MacCrocodile on August 29, 2014 at 7:28 PM · Report this

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