If you haven't yet read it, please read the prequel to this play, `Angels in America, Pt. 1: Millennium Approaches' prior to this one. The staging is a bit different, similar in style (rapid scene changes, minimalist set, etc.) but it starts out with the wreckage from the Angel's entry in the previous play.
Kushner described this play as a comedy, but I cannot see it that way. Except for irony and dark humour (perhaps akin to the idea of the Human Comedy, in which nothing is really funny) almost ever movement in the play is serious. And yet, in the face of death, what can be serious?
Roy Cohn is on his deathbed in the hospital, and receives prayers and rebuke from Ethel Rosenberg. Harper is gloriously insane in many ways with a Valium addiction, having lost Joe to a male lover. Harper lives with Hannah, Joe's mother now ensconced in New York City.
Louis and Prior struggle to come to terms, although Prior knows that Louis has met up with Joe. Cohn learns of Joe's marriage break-up and the cause, and throws a fit.
Oh yes, did I fail to mention the drag-queen-turned-nurse named Belize (a stage name) who attends both Cohn in the hospital and Prior at home?
There are extended scenes of Prior and the Angel, exchanging information, stories, prophecies. Back in the days when the supply of AZT was almost non-existent, Cohn manages to get some via his connexions, and Belize manages to get some away from him for Prior. Later, after Cohn dies, he steals the rest of the supply, but not before calling Louis in to recite the Kaddish in thanks for the `gift'. Of course, Louis doesn't want to.
`I'm not saying any ... Kaddish for him. The drugs OK, sure, fine, but no... way am I praying for him. My New Deal Pinko Parents in Schenectady would never forgive me, they're already so disappointed, "He's a f*g. He's an office temp. And now look, he's saying Kaddish for Roy Cohn".'
In the end, there is death, and there is life, and even the high angels cannot stop the progress, for they don't know how. But, like most mythologies, there is a hope that survives. `This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.'
Kushner's plays are remarkable statements of the culture of the times, in the 1980s and 1990s, with the growth of the AIDS crisis and the unveiling of diversity in all its suffering during arguably the most inopportune political time it could have been occurring, the Reagan/Bush era.
The characterisations are astonishing, as is the dialogue, and despite the drawbacks of play-form to more conventional narrative, this play yields fascinating results, not the least of which because it permits the reader to construct new meanings in conjunction with the play.
Kushner's prophetic call for a new world has not been fully answered, and perhaps never can be fully answered. Prophetic calls are interesting things - most prophets in fact fail in their mission (if you look at the Bible and other religions, you'll find out that prophets are often right, but only discovered to be right after their advice has been ignored and destruction has been the result).
The call to the world that I see is that we must all have compassion on those who suffer, for a true commitment to humanity requires that the living make amends to the dead by saving those who can be saved, and comforting those who cannot be to the best of our abilities.