Arts & Culture » Culture

Seeking out our better angels

by Roberto Friedman

Benjamin T. Ismail (Louis Ironson) and Randy Harrison (Prior Walter) in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's production of "Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches." Photo: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Benjamin T. Ismail (Louis Ironson) and Randy Harrison (Prior Walter) in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's production of "Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches." Photo: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre  

Seeing the "Angels in America" revival at Berkeley Rep last month was among the most powerful theatre experiences Out There has ever had. It runs through July 22, and if you're interested in the American stage, you must see it.

Playwright Tony Kushner's masterwork is subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," and it captures what it was like to be gay during the terrifying early years of the AIDS epidemic. OT lived through the 1980s and 90s as a gay man, before the advent of the so-called "cocktail drug therapy," so the scenes of Prior Walter's descent into disease and distress rang all sorts of bells. Young LGBT people should go see this play to understand their history.

We also related all over the place to the flawed character Louis Ironson: gay, Jewish, intellectual, given sometimes to intemperate ranting, and trapped as a working-class man in the cogs of the late capitalist machine.

But what really blew our minds was how shockingly relevant this play from 1990-91 is to our current political climate and national predicament. Of course you can draw a straight line from evil corporate attorney Roy Cohn to his protégé, equally evil real estate developer/flim-flam man Donald Trump. But even more insidious is how the Reaganite values that triumphed in the 80s - Greed is good! Follow your own selfishness! - have come to infest every aspect of our national policy. There's no interest in the common good in this administration, only in good corporate returns.

Now we have arrived at the logical fall-out from that mindset, which includes a Secretary of Education whose goal is to gut public schools, and an EPA chief out to ravage the environment. The Trump Cabinet is composed of liars, psychopaths and billionaire thieves from the national till. We have reaped what we have sewn. Yet Kushner is able to create wonder, mythology, and poetry from these degrading ingredients - even a hopeful, life-affirming ending in the face of tragedy. That's the power of art, of theatre, and of genius.


Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg in  

Still, we needed an antidote to the sordid political world all around us last week, and we found it in "RBG," the documentary from filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen now in theaters that explores the life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Yes, "the Notorious RBG" has become a pop culture icon, but it's her legal legacy that will ensure her immortality in American history. In the face of reactionary Supreme Court Justices, RBG has stood up for gender equality and the rights of all minorities, including LGBTQ people. She might be diminutive, but her impact has been gigantic.

It was good to be reminded that there are women and men in public service devoted to the common good. In fact, "RBG" reminded us that we know people right here, right now who are working for a better world, in AIDS nonprofits, in social services, in health care, even in the gay press. Our faith in public figures is restored.

Symphony outreach

The Bay Area Rainbow Symphony seeks musicians and invites orchestral players to audition ahead of the group's Pride concert, scheduled for Sat., June 9. The program will be Bernstein's one-act opera "Trouble in Tahiti," Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, and Elfrida Andree's Prelude. Rehearsals are Wednesday nights starting May 23.

Interested musicians can contact the symphony by emailing recruitment@bars-sf.org. For more information, check out www.bars-sf.org.


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