Avenging Angel

In his acclaimed and controversial epic “Angels in America”, opening in Los Angeles this month, Tony Kushner takes on everything from AIDS to oedipal anger. Tad Friend tracks down the elusive playwright.

  1. Do angels exist?

    Stephen Spinelia once demanded that of Tony Kushner in rehearsal. Spinella, who was playing Prior Walter in Kushner's play Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches, needed to know if the angel that descends onstage and kindles tremendous orgasms in all who behold her is real or Prior's AIDS-inspired hallucination. "Tony's face was priceless, like 'What am I, some kind of religious prophet?' " says director Oskar Eustis. "He eventually muttered, 'I don't know.'"

    So I ask Kushner myself: Do angels exist?

    "It would be unsafe to say no," Kushner finally says. "Consider the conjuncture of the millennium and the fantastic historical change of the last three years." He grins and adopts a portentous Geraldo Rivera voice. "Is that coincidence? I think not." Kushner fetches a heavily underlined copy of Walter Benjamin's Illuminations from the groaning shelves of his Brooklyn apartment, lowers the volume on Pärt's Miserere, and hurries back, slue-footing in his Converse high-tops, to quote Benjamin on the angel of history. This is interesting but somewhat off topic. A passionate socialist with a formidable introjected grasp of Marx and Freud—introjected is a word he uses a lot—Kushner is appealing and articulate, but his conversation tends to corkscrew into the distance until he buttons up with a nervous smile. "In profiles I always feel I come off as the nutty professor," he says, "as an erudite creep who can't get to the point."

    But Kushner's ducking of S...

Originally published in Vogue, November 1992