The very first time I read Angels in America, I read and re-read an exchange in the play between Joe and his wife, Harper:
HARPER: Are you a homo?
Are you? If you try to walk out right now I’ll put your dinner back in the oven and turn it up so high the whole building will fill with smoke and everyone in it will asphyxiate. So help me God I will.
Now answer the question.
JOE: What if I…
HARPER: Then tell me, please. And we’ll see.
JOE: No. I’m not.
I don’t see what difference it makes.
I knew then I wanted to play this character someday. When I was sixteen, a friend asked me if I was gay. I stared at her, terrified, for a very long time before I lied.
“No.” I said. “No I’m not”.
I hated myself in that moment. I hated my friend even more for putting me in that position. I had told myself that if I was ever asked outright, I wouldn’t deny that I was gay. When it came to it, though, I just didn’t have the courage or the strength to tell the truth.
I might have very little in common with Joe. He’s married, a lawyer, a Mormon living in New York at the height of the Cold War and the AIDS crisis. His background and worldview are far removed from mine. Nonetheless, I feel for him because we are both liars. We have tried to hide who we are, we’ve hated and tried to crush the part of ourselves meant for love. People might ask what a play about 80s America has to say about life in Ireland in 2013 but in Joe, this all-American boy from Utah, I see my own life, and the life stories of thousands of other Irish men and women reflected.
You don’t have to be gay to recognize yourself in Angels in America. It’s a world in which the old standbys of religion and nation no longer mean anything, where even the idea of a future is distant, dangerous and uncertain. Joe and Harper, Prior and Louis, Roy, Hannah and all the others who live in this world fight for love, hope and their humanity in the face of hideous odds. They are like us. They are us. You can see the abandonment and uncertainty young Irish people face today reflected in their struggles. Like us, they have only each other and, while Angels in America might not offer us solutions, it asks questions we’ll all have to answer.
Playing Joe in Thereisbear! Theatre’s production is important to me for all these reasons but his is only one strand in a complex and amazing story. I’m so excited to be a part of this project and to share this story with all of you across the country. My sincerest thanks to you for all your generosity and support; I’ll see you all in three weeks.