Monday, December 5, 2011

Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Split Screens

Look closely at one or more of the "split screen" scenes: what is gained from juxtaposing these scenes, as opposed to staging them sequentially?

Tony Kushner's Angels in America employs a technique we have not read (or probably seen) in any of the plays we have read/seen this semester. Kushner uses it for fighting scenes between Joe and Harper along with Prior and Louis. The two couples are in similar and yet very different situations. Joe is married to Harper even though he is homosexual. Meanwhile, Harper is a Valium addict who hears things, hallucinates, and is slowly coming to terms with the idea that her husband is homosexual. On the other hand, Prior and Louis are a homosexual couple (though Louis has yet to come out to his family). Prior has AIDS and Louis is weak and unable to stay with Prior through his disease. But the split scenes are not limited to these two couples.

Movie poster for Angels in America starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.*
The split scenes allow Kushner to show the problems between the two people side by side. Neither person is in an ideal situation. Splitting the scene allows the reader/viewer to see the events and compare them, without taking up lots of time. It also gives the audience the idea that these events are taking place at the same time.

American Conservatory Theatre's production showing the angel and Prior.*
The first split scene in the play is when Harper and Joe are discussing moving to Washington. The audience gets an insight into how far gone Harper is-- she hears noises and believes it to be men with knives, she's scared of the bedroom, she think Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcism are real and she'll be the sequel to it. The audience also learns that she has no idea how many pills she has taken in the day. The other part is between Louis and the Rabbi at his grandmother's funeral. Louis admits that he was not the grandson his grandmother deserved because he abandoned her. He also seeks help from the Rabbi, but he will not listen and suggests that Louis finds a priest, despite the religious difference. The scene then cuts back to Joe and Harper. He is trying to get her to understand the professional importance of moving to Washington, but she wants to know about his walks. 
Harper (Zoe Kazan) and Joe Pitt (Bill Heck) in the Broadway production of Angels in America.*
In the second split scene, we see Harper and Joe. It is after their fight and Joe is coming home from a walk. Harper once again tries to find out where and why he goes on the walks, hoping to get him to confess his homosexuality. She indicates that he is changing and Joe demands she states what she is accusing him of. When she finally asks him, he lies and says he isn't. The scene is shared with Louis and Prior, who are in bed, discussing Prior's condition. Prior admits that he doesn't tell Louis what is happening because Louis isn't strong enough to take it. Instead of Louis trying to reassure Prior, the latter ends up comforting the former. During the scene, the audience sees Louis beginning to pull away from the relationship because of the disease.
Show Photos - Angels in America - Christian Borle - Zachary Quinto
Prior (Christian Borle) and Louis (Zachary Quinto) on Broadway. *
The scene cuts back to Joe and Harper, the latter has decided that Joe is lying and believes him to be homosexual. The audience learns that Joe is afraid that his career will be destroyed if word gets out that he is homosexual. He is afraid that Harper will knowingly try to destroy him. Then, Harper tells him she is pregnant. At first he does not buy it, but then is unsure and asks Harper to tell him the truth. She decides that she wants to keep it secret from him because he is keeping his homosexuality secret. Next we see Louis and Prior again. Prior is telling a story about uncertainty of death and being suspended in time by not knowing if it is your time to die. The scene ends with Louis begging Prior not to get any sicker.
Salt Lake Acting Company showing Hannah Pitt meeting the Homeless Woman.*

The next split scene involves Joe and Roy along with Louis and Man. Joe and Roy are discussing the move to Washington. Roy is pushing Joe to move, but he is hesitating because of Harper's condition and refusal to  move. Joe feels a little responsible for her condition and worries about what the move will do to her. Roy suggests that Joe do what he needs to do in order to succeed in life because neither Harper will not be able to get her life back on track. Kushner cuts over to Louis and Man in Central Park. Louis is trying to forget his problems through rough sex with a stranger but they have no place to go.
Show Photos - Angels in America - Frank Wood - Bill Heck
Frank Wood as Roy Cohn and Bill Heck as Joe Pitt.*
Roy suggests that he is like a father figure for Joe and is trying to push him to succeed. The audience learns that Joe does not believe that his father loved him. Roy tries to assure Joe that it was just to make him tougher in a cruel world. Louis and the Man decide to have sex in Central Park. Louis goes through a range of emotions. He begins by demanding that the Man wear a condom, presumably so that he does not get AIDS like Prior.  But when the condom breaks, Louis suggests that they continue, no longer caring if he gets infected because he feels bad about leaving Prior. Roy informs Joe that he is dying of cancer and gives Joe some bits of wisdom. 
Haymarket Theatre's rendition of Angels in America showing Louis and Belize.*
All of the splits scenes culminate in one explosive scene in Act 2. Joe, Harper, Louis, and Prior are in split scenes but they occur at once. Both couples are mad at each other. Joe is admitting to Harper that he is homosexual. Although Harper once wanted to know, she does not actually want the truth and have to come to terms with what it means. Meanwhile Louis is letting Prior know that he is moving out because he cannot get past the fact that Prior is dying of AIDS. The scene ends with Louis walking out of the hospital and Harper disappearing with Mr. Lies. The scene illustrates two events occurring at the same time and are very similar. In both, the couples are basically breaking up-- one because he is homosexual, the other because he is scared of death and AIDS.
Show Photos - Angels in America - Zachary Quinto - Lewis Ironson
Billy Porter as Belize and Louis (Quinto).*
The next time we see a split scene is between Belize and Louis who are united by being exes of Prior. However, Belize is still there for Prior, while Louis has abandoned him. However, we see Louis keeping himself distant from Belize. They get into an argument over racism and anti-Semitism. They share the scene with Prior and Emily. Prior is getting a treatment while getting a check up on the status of his condition. Belize has indicated that Prior believes he is going crazy, but Emily tells Prior he is not. The audience is also brought up to speed on how Prior is progressing, giving some illusion that the disease has stagnated a little bit. Even though Emily claims that Prior is medically mentally sound, the audience begins to see Prior's hallucinations. 

Joe and Louis.*
The final scene of the first part concludes with a split scene between Louis and Prior. Louis is in the park and meets up with Joe. Louis wants to know more about the story of Lazarus. Joe wants sympathy from Louis. Louis is unable to give it because he pities himself for abandoning Prior but is also afraid that he'll hurt or infect Joe because of what happened with Prior. Louis then decides that misery loves company as neither feel that they are deserving of love. Prior is talking incohesively when he is visited by the angel (with a very dramatic, Spielberg entrance) who will lead him to death. 

Show Photos - Angels in America - Robin Weigert - Christian Borle
Robin Weigert as the angel and Prior (Borle).*
The split scenes work to show events that happen at the same time. But they also show similar situations to help the audience what is occurring. Kushner uses it as a way to compare the relationships and show where each character is on their road to life and how they are coping with being homosexual, AIDS, and other trials of life. 

*denotes pictures obtained from Google Image Search.

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