Where It All Goes Down
New York City in 1986 and 1990
Angels in America is set in the 1980s, during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Being a political play, we hear quite a bit about the president. Reagan was the most beloved recent conservative president, and had a huge impact on shaping America as we know it today. As we see in the play, he gave hope to many conservatives. On the flip side, however, his administration has been widely criticized for its long silence regarding the AIDS epidemic in America. Many LGBT activists have accused the administration of ignoring the disease because it was thought to mostly impact gay men and African Americans. Thousands of Americans, many of them gay men, died before the administration formally acknowledged the disease. A whole movement arose with the slogan "Silence = Death."
Want to learn more about Reagan-Era America? Check out our US history guide.
The Real World
The majority of Angels in America is set in New York City – like all over the place in New York City. We zip around, from the characters' various apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn, to hospitals, the Brooklyn Promenade, Jones Beach, Central Park, the offices of the Brooklyn Federal Court of Appeals, and everybody's favorite NY attraction – The Mormon Visitors Center diorama room. The wide variety of locations throughout the city that Angels takes us to, lend to the epic feeling of the play. If the whole thing were bottled up in one character's brownstone it just wouldn't have quite the same scope, now would it?
In Part One the only other city we go to is Salt Lake, but in Part Two we briefly leave the North America for a trip to Moscow. At the top of the play, there's a fiery monologue from Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, the World's oldest living Bolshevik, in the Hall of Deputies at the Kremlin. In his monologue, Aleksii warns that all the changes going on in the Soviet Union might be happening too fast. He's talking about perestroika, Gorbachev's policy of economic and political reform. You can read more here.
Setting the first moment of the play in Moscow might seem random at first. But by the end we see that Kushner is using the policies of perestroika as a metaphor for the way his characters have restructured their lives by the end of the play. On an even bigger level, perestroika represents all of humanity's need to constantly grow and change. Setting the first moment of the play in Moscow highlights these ideas.
Angels also takes us into the minds of its characters. We are frequently escorted into Harper's valium-fueled hallucinations. There we meet her mystical travel agent buddy, Mr. Lies, and the Mormon mother, a mannequin come to life. As in Millennium Approaches, Harper and Prior share hallucinations – such as in the Mormon Visitors Center diorama room. Harper and Prior both also go to Heaven, which may or may not be a shared dream.