“Angels in America” Stage Reading Sheds Light On Stories of Homosexuality And AIDS

After falling to the floor, Prior Walter, played by John Moreland ’18, laid there in tears. He yelled for his boyfriend, Louis Ironson, played by Chiraag Gohel ’16. Weak and bleeding, Moreland’s character cried out in pain as his AIDS progressed and worsened.

Seven students performed a stage reading of “Angels in America,” written by Tony Kushner, in the Theatre Classroom last Friday night. Directed by Isabella Oliva ’16, the students read the first act of the play.

The first act of the play focused on the relationship between two couples, Joe and Harper Pitt, portrayed by Thomas Glover ’18 and Sarah Schmaier ’16 respectively, and Walter and Ironson.

Simultaneously, Harper Pitt struggles with hallucinations, as a wife who takes pills to cope with her failing marriage and troubles. When she learns her husband is homosexual, she takes control of her life, and plans to move to San Francisco in the end of Act One.

“I think [playing Harper] really pushed me to go out of my comfort zone as an actor and human being, so that was a lot, but it was great,” said Schmaier. “I was also recruited for this play, but I identi- fied with Harper when I read the book in English 300. I like how she’s an interesting and complex female role in the play that’s very male dominated. That definitely drew me to the part.”

The idea of sexuality also intertwined with the societal gender norms and illness in the play. As Joe struggles in his marriage, he comes to discover and accept his sexual orientation.

Walter and Ironson navi- gate the aftermath of Walter’s

AIDS diagnosis and the impact it had on their relationship. At the same time, Roy Cohn, portrayed by Jack Twomey ’17, grapples with his own diagnosis of AIDS and his homosexual identity.

“It’s been a really inspiring process. [Roy’s] very different from any character I’ve ever played,” said Twomey. “He’s very rough and angry. He’s very aggressive and it was a real new experience for me… I was able to channel a lot of raw emotion into it. I articu- lated a lot and added a lot of expression to my voice and it felt really awesome.”

Oliva decided to put on “Angels in America” after reading the book in English 300. The relevance of the themes in the play was particularly inspiring to Oliva.

“I really identified with the characters, particularly Louis… who is a guilt character… I thought it was really important because it commented on a lot of really socially relevant themes, while still being a fun- ny and dramatic play,” said Ol- ivia.

The play also allowed actors to further explore and re- search the topics of sexuality and AIDS.

“I feel like I now understand a whole lot more on the AIDS crisis and the impact it had on people, not only the people with AIDS but anyone in their life, [especially partners]. [I learned] also a lot about society, and how people feel the need to cover up their sexuality… It makes me feel grateful to not be living in a way more prejudiced time for men,” said Moreland.

Editor’s Note: Jack Twomey is a Managing Editor for The Phillipian, vol. CXXXIX.