Tony Award Winning ‘Angels in America: Millennium Approaches’ Coming to River Campus



March 11, 2009 – American playwright Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. March 26-28 and April 1-4, and at 2 p.m. April 5 in the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre at Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus.

“Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” opened on Broadway in 1993 and ran for 367 performances. Subsequently adapted into both an Emmy winning HBO miniseries and an opera, the play continues to challenge, entertain and amaze audiences with its mix of gritty realism and fantasy. One of its most ingenious features is the play’s use of eight actors to play 21 different characters. The play focuses entirely upon these 21 characters and the worldly and otherworldly events of their lives. Thus, Kushner avoids preaching and polemics even as he braves what was, in 1993, still relatively uncharted territory. So, although AIDS, homosexuality and addiction feature prominently in the plot, the drama builds upon more universal themes: politicsᾰright and left and centerᾰgender roles; change versus stasis; love in the face of the longing for movement; the politics of sexuality, government, and religion.

“Angels in America” is a play in which incredibly otherworldly events take place alongside the most mundane; and always at the center resides a profound sense of the emotional core of these wonderfully drawn characters. The play makes social commentary on neo-conservatism, homosexuality, religion and God, the Ronald Reagan administration, and the AIDS epidemic without ever devolving into sermonizing.   In 1993 and 1994, “Angels in America” won seven Tony Awards, including Best Play; back to back Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play; as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and a host of other awards and accolades. Groundbreaking in its day, the play quickly became and remains a cherished part of the theatrical mainstream while it has earned a lasting place in the pantheon of great American literature. 

Set in New York City in the mid-1980s, “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” opens as Louis Ironson, a gay Jew, learns his partner, Prior Walter, has AIDS.  Meanwhile, Joe Pitt, a closeted homosexual, Mormon, and Republican law clerk, is offered a promotion by Roy Cohn, a power broker and extreme right-wing lawyer (based on an actual person.) Before accepting the promotion, Pitt must convince his wife, Harper, a Valium-addicted, agoraphobic woman longing to escape her increasingly confining marriage but unable or unwilling to move.  Unknown to Pitt, Cohn is also a closeted homosexual, who later discovers he has AIDS. Ghosts of Walter’s ancestors and an angelᾰ“The Continental Principality of America”ᾰvisit Walter, calling him “Prophet,” while Pitt fights to reconcile his marriage, his religion and his sexuality.  Ironson, racked with guilt for abandoning Walter in terror of Walter’s illness, starts a tentative relationship with Pitt who seems a kindred spirit in spite of his politics.  Harper forces Joe out of his closet and she takes her first steps towards freedom.  Hannah, Pitt’s mother, moves to New York from Salt Lake City after Pitt tells her of his homosexuality.  She says he is “being ridiculous.”  Walter and Ironson make a final break which leads Walter to confront his own freedom as he faces the advent of a mysterious and frightening messenger from heavenᾰAmerica’s long-absent angel.

“Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” is strongly suggested for mature audiences.  “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” does not flinch from strong imagery and strong, even graphic, language in its depictions of the larger human struggle.  Audiences should also find, however, that the appearances of hallucinated and supernatural visions, the visitations of the ghosts of Walter’s dead ancestors, and the climactic arrival of the angel of America herself contribute an atmosphere of the fantastic and the wondrously (but simply!) “theatrical” to what is, finally, an uplifting and affirming experience. 


May be purchased by contacting the River Campus Box Office, located in the Cultural Arts Center, 518 S. Fountain St., weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by calling (573) 651–2265. Tickets also may be purchased at all MetroTix outlets, online at, keyword “angels,” or by calling toll free (800) 293-5949.