Radio Wolinsky

The Ascent of “Angels in America”: Isaac Butler & Dan Kois

This interview contains spoilers for the play and film.

Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, authors of “The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America,” in conversation with Richard Wolinsky. The book is an oral history of the play by Tony Kushner, looking at not only its history, but how Angels in America fits into the fabric of the American saga and theatrical history.

The play Angels in America has become a stage classic since it was first produced in the early 1990s. Dealing with the confluence of the AIDS epidemic, the Reagan era, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the rise of gay liberation, the seven-hour epic theater piece also became a 2003 film directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep, Mary Louise Parker, Justin Kirk, Jeffrey Wright, Emma Thompson and Al Pacino as Roy Cohn, available now on CD and via HBO.

At present, major productions of Angels in America are mounted in both New York and Berkeley. The New York production, which runs through June 15, 2018, stars Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield, and is up for eleven Tony Awards. The Berkeley Rep production, starring Stephen Spinella and Randy Harrison, runs through July 22, 2018.

The evening after this interview, Dan Kois and Isaac Butler were on stage at Berkeley Rep with Stephen Spinella, who plays Roy Cohn in that production. It turns out that it was Spinella himself who wanted to restore the scene, and Tony Kushner gave the go-ahead, saying that it was fine to stick it in during or after the bows at the end of the play, like the teasers at the end of superhero films. At some point, though, director Tony Taccone chose to move the scene before the epilogue because the stage would be too crazy at the bows to suddenly do another scene with effects. Thus it became part of the play. Two other changes new to this Berkeley Rep production, mentioned by direcctor Tony Taccone: a revelation is made by the character Harper to her husband Joe in their final scene together, and a speech by Prior Walter during the heaven sequence.


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