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Memories of 'Angels in America'

Audience members and those who worked on the play remember the experience.

November 11, 2012|By Mike Boehm and David Ng, Los Angeles Times
  • Co-director Oskar Eustis, left, and Stephen Spinella rehearse at the Mark Taper Forum. In the background is Gordon Davidson, who, as artistic director of Center Theatre Group, produced "Angels" at the Taper.
Co-director Oskar Eustis, left, and Stephen Spinella rehearse at the Mark… (Schwartz/Thompson / Mark…)

Twenty years after Tony Kushner's epic "Angels in America" was staged in full for the first time, we asked several people who had been in the audience at the Mark Taper Forum or who had been involved behind the scenes to recall their experience.

GRAPHIC: Memories of 'Angels in America'

"At the curtain call I remember having to hold onto the seat in front of me because my legs were so weak from the experience of having been taken to a place that I didn't know existed, the larger sense of what the theater could achieve. That you could throw that many ideas together and tie them together in that insane way, and transform the world's discussion of something that needed to be talked about...

"I felt very proud to have dedicated my life to the theater, because "Angels in America" was what it can and should do."

—Daniel Henning, artistic director of Blank Theatre Company since its founding in 1990

"Between 1985 to 1995, I lost more than 100 friends to AIDS. When 'Angels' came out, it was right in the midst of what we called the good old, bad old days. 'Angels' had the ability to capture the grief that we were all experiencing and add just enough humor that we could laugh.... It allowed me to cry, laugh and it gave us a new sense of purpose."

—John J. Duran, West Hollywood councilman

"'We did it. We really did it, and it's good.' It was that kind of profound satisfaction of achieving, as close as we could get, what Tony had in mind. There was a sense of being part of something that was unique. It was apparent in the way people didn't rush out of the theater. They wanted to hang around and talk. It stayed with them. Most of the people who sought me out simply said, 'Thank you.'"

—Gordon Davidson, former artistic director of Center Theatre Group and producer of the Mark Taper Forum's 1992 "Angels in America"

"Tony wrote a lot of 'Perestroika' at the Taper because there was an open desk, which was near me. I was playing music and talking on the phone — I was probably not so good for the play... ['Angels'] kind of threw the doors open at the Taper in a way that I long for in the present day. It was frank and witty at the same time. It's a thick play — audiences had to listen. A lot of straight people who felt on the outside felt like they could participate in some way."

—Oliver Mayer, associate professor of drama at USC and former associate literary manager at the Taper

"It remains the most significant theater experience of my life.... The play humanizes Roy Cohn. When it was over, I didn't feel hatred for him. I felt bad that he was trapped in his internal homophobia.... There's tons of rage in 'Angels,' but it's also a beautiful love story."

—Jon Imparato, director of cultural arts, L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center

"At the end of the first preview, when the lights came up the audience was already completely on its feet, roaring. The cast looked completely undone by the response. It was clear from that moment we had something very special, and from then until the end of the run, every performance was extraordinary."

—Oskar Eustis (artistic director of the Public Theater in New York City and co-director, with Tony Taccone, of the Taper's 1992 production of "Angels in America")

"I went to see it three times ... and then I also saw the production in New York. I thought the one in L.A. was superior. I grew up in L.A. and I've been going to the Taper my whole life, and this was certainly the best play experience of my life. It was one of those transformative, life-altering theater experiences.

—David Elzer, independent theater producer, writer and publicist

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