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428Comparative Drama Approaching the Millennium: Essays on Angels in America. Edited by Deborah R. Geis and Steven F. Kruger. Theater: Theory/Text/Performance . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. Pp. viii + 306. $44.95 casebound, $17.95 paperbound. Early in Tony Kushner's Angels in America the montage of identities , experiences, and varied histories of its characters is transposed on an American landscape described as "the melting pot where nothing melted" (1:10). This iconic metaphor might also aptly represent the new collection of critical essays presented in Approaching the Millennium: Essays on Angels in America edited by Deborah R. Geis and Steven F. Kruger. This ambitious anthology presents aesthetic, political and pragmatic critical views as vast and divergent as the much-heralded play itself. The text is separated into four categories, although a few of the essays transcend disciplinary boundaries: socio-political discourse and historiography, identity issues, treatments oftime and space, and a final section discussing the formidable production considerations ofAngels. This complex blend of perspectives offers tantalizing points of entry into a deeply-layered play, yet the breadth of views seem to collapse under the weight of their scope leaving potentially provocative and fruitful analyses underdeveloped. Still, while occasionally disappointing , Approaching the Millennium is an excellent addition to the curiously sparse literature surrounding Kushner's play. David Roman's article "November 1, 1992: AlOS/ Angels in America " provides a clear example of the perplexing blend of insight and digression present throughout Approaching the Millennium. Roman questions traditional theater history narratives in a Foucauldian manner, arguing that a linear construction of history couched in heterosexual semiotics is inherently biased. Roman extends his argument to AIDS activism, insightfully explaining how the media's selective preoccupation with "radical" groups such as ACT UP tends to totalize AIDS activism into false "official" narratives, marginalizing other forms of AIDS activism by essentially erasing them from history. To Roman, then, AIDS drama, and Angels in particular, requires a new kind ofhistoriography beyond common reductive methodologies: "an AIDS theater history should question the positivism imbedded in traditional theater history" (49). But instead ofillustrating his theory convincingly, Roman conducts a tedious and rather rudimentary summary of basic "keywords" within the theater history lexicon. Self-consciously, Roman defends the lengthy diversion citing the need for uncovering the prejudicial effects that terms such as "premiere" and "preview" have on theater history, asserting, once again, that these labels conceal constraining biases beneath a veneer of all-encompassing exactitude. Roman's justification, though, does not provide the kind oftangible support needed for realizing his theory, nor does his intriguing yet under-explored confluence of the 1992 presidential election with the Los Angeles "opening" of An- Reviews429 gels clearly define a revolutionary historiography. Examining Angels from a decidedly more pragmatic view, although with equally varied success, Arnold Aronson argues that simplistic approaches to Angels' scenography more closely capture Kushner's dream-like narration. Aronson acknowledges the challenges to mounting Angels by noting the sixty scene changes involved, but draws an interesting comparison to the uncomplicated stagings of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Like the expressionistic bareness Wilder calls for, Aronson advocates a restrained use of props and machinery, relying instead on Kushner's imagery to convey emotion. Thus, for Aronson the Los Angeles Mark Taper Forum production resulted in a "compromised " design handicapped by a conspicuous regiment of staff: "In a play with so many scene changes this parade of furniture-toting figures ultimately adds not simply an encumbrance or distraction but also another level of text—a secondary play about furniture moving that exists in the interstices ofthe primary text" (224). Aronson's caution against extravagant productions of Angels is well supported and reinforced by Kushner's notes, which promote "pared-down" scenic renditions. But in constructing an otherwise convincing correlation between Our Town and Angels, Aronson over-romanticizes New York City to fit the analogy. His naive characterization of New York as "a city of the displaced, the outsiders, the adventurers, the seekers and searchers ... the home for everyone and a repository of history, it embodies all that is America and makes it the quintessential emblem of America at the millennium," not only relies upon tired clichés...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 428-430
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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