Deug Doen Group, a company directed by Aurélie Van Den Daele, recently staged Angels in America by playwright T. Kushner. This saga about the coming of AIDS in 1985 shows desperate characters with refined imaginary worlds occupied by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg and a female Angel that we wanted to be wingless. The actress who plays her role also plays the part of a nurse who looks after Prior, a gay man diagnosed with AIDS. Instead of descending upon the Earth, the Angel elects Prior with a medical gaze as if scanning him. Prior keeps saying he was chosen to be the messenger of AIDS as a new prophecy. In Hebrew, DVR can be “the speech of God” or “plague”, a phrase used to depict AIDS as it hit the gay community in the 80’s. Prior led by guilt accepts the reactionary vision before claiming his will to live past hope.
Prior’s fate is mirrored with the life of famous lawyer Roy Cohen who executed the Rosenbergs. Roy denies his homosexuality and dies of AIDS alone and disbarred, a coward and victim of a world he helped to build. He is punished and his deeds are rightly purged.
Prior apparently recovers from a fever after his visit in Heaven. He suffers the shame inherent to his stigmatizing disease. His sexuality and vulnerability upsettingly recall our own mortality, the idea of a moved down “cadaver” reduced to remnants. The Angel tells Prior he is addicted to life but Tchernobyl will soon spread its dim seeds. An assembly of angels dressed in white overalls cover the furniture with thin sheets while Prior is in quarantine in a glass box. It reminds me of E.T. by Spielberg. Prior is to be ejected as a ritualized victim, but he embodies alterity that can’t be expelled from mankind. His friends are around him, he wakes up dripping in sweat. Gestures are slow as if we were watching a film or we were having a daydream, an unreal experience. We wish Prior could resurrect, his ostracism is intolerable and all too real. We know he can’t live but we denounce his death and show the lack he left behind him.
Staging Angels was a dream, it is also a necessity. Our historical theatre blames the America of the Reagan era as a model of counter-revolution and conservative individualism. Angels reveals the real presence of people made of flesh through whom you can evolve. Meeting the alien incites to compare, examine who you really are, what touches you. You can’t possibly be yourself without mingling with the other.