Angels in America: Millennium Approaches on Broadway at a matinee during New York Pride. The Walter Kerr Theatre was packed, and the place had a hum of electricity. There was something extra special about seeing this particular play with this particular audience. It was human. It was community. It was magic. I will never forget the raucous laughter. Or the angry murmurs during the explosive Roy Cohn scenes. Or the collective gasp, followed by a distinct moment of silence, followed by audible weeping, when Prior first reveals his AIDS lesions. At one point, the actors had to stop and graciously offered appreciative and knowing nods of understanding directly to us, so emotional was the response.
I went there by myself, but I left as part of a family. The older gentleman who sat next to me (and who shared his grief over the loss of his partner during intermission) walked out with me, saying he hoped to see me that evening for the next part. No, I told him, I have to catch a train home. He looked disappointed. And then he hugged me and said, "Thank you." I watched him get lost in the Times Square post-theater crowd. I never did get his name, and I didn't fully realize why the hug and gratitude until I was well on my way home. We were there for each other - complete strangers - when being alone wasn't part of the experience. We were part of the very special gay community at a very particular point in time. When it was over, we were neither strangers nor alone.
All these years later, I think of him and of the play we shared. And of the play we missed sharing together.
Angels in America: Perestroika
In the years since, I have seen the second play in various forms: a college production, the HBO movie, and in the recent Broadway revival. It is my favorite of the two plays. The messy emotions, the politics, the fantasy all combine to give me a nearly perfect, inherently theatrical experience. And yet, despite my preference for part two, and despite how much I adored the revival version, I still have that nagging feeling that I really missed out by not seeing Angels in America: Perestroika that warm summer evening at the Walter Kerr.
By most accounts, they were spectacular.
But I am equally (if not a little more) certain that I really missed out on the experience with that particular audience. Our own unique community, together again, but never again thereafter. And I wonder if my matinee friend enjoyed it, and if he went home alone, thinking about his loss. What would we have talked about during intermission? Would we tell each other our names?
Would we hug goodbye again? This time, I'd be sure to say "thank you."
Nearly 30 years later, I'm pretty sure he has passed on. I hope, if there is Heaven, that the Angel greeted him as he reunited with his partner. Like I said, I think of him often.
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