SHIFTING CONTEXTS: RECONSIDERING ANGELS IN AMERICA AS QUEER THEORY
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No theatrical work emerged from the AIDS crisis of the 1980s with as much national and global influence as Tony Kushner’s two-part Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes—Millennium Approaches (1991) and Perestroika (1992). Prior Walter, a gay man living with AIDS, concludes the cycle with a charge to the audience: “The Great Work Begins.” Angels in America presents itself as a part of that Great Work, placing the various experiences of its characters at the center of a growing conversation on sexual identity. The period of the play’s first workshops to its successful premiers around the world parallel the window of time during which queer theory became a coherent academic discipline. Kushner’s play has been critically dissected from a broad range of perspectives, including a queer lens; however, Angels in America has yet to be recognized as a work of queer theory itself. This thesis examines Angels in America as a work that emerges alongside landmark texts of queer theory as a praxis that embodies its own theories about identity formation under discursive institutional power. The dramatic dialogue of the play allows for the multivocality of Kushner’s characters to shape a neo-Platonic dialectic on queer ideology and the construction of the sexual self. The characters’ manifold assertions embrace the ambiguity and discord that have marked queer theory and sexuality studies, as well as foreshadowing further developments within the American LGBT civil rights and queer visibility movements.