When a book or play is adapted to fit the screen, be it the silver or the small, seldom does it really survive the transition. Angels in America is a beautifully written piece of stage drama and HBO manages to do it justice. The imagery and dialogue are retained in a way that is poetic and profound, if at times, only a very little bit too dramatic for your television.
When waspy Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) tells his Jewish, politically enthusiastic and cynical Louis (Ben Shenkman) that he has AIDS Louis spirals into panic mode, eventually leaving Prior. After this he takes up with Joe Pitt, who is, unknown to Louis and against almost all his morals, a married, Mormon, Republican lawyer. In Joe's life is the obnoxious but high powered Roy Cohn (Al Pacino), a real historical figure, who though gay himself, and dying of AIDS, is rampantly homophobic. Roy is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep) whom he had a hand in putting to death in the 50s. Streep also plays a rabbi as well as Joe's mother who ends up comforting Prior through some rough times. Prior begins to have visions of the Angel of America (Emma Thompson) who looks startlingly like his cheeky nurse (Thompson also plays a 3rd role, that of an homeless woman). His only true friend after Louis leaves him is Belize (Jeffrey Wright) a black night nurse who attends to the racist Roy Cohn. Wright also plays an ethereal travel agent who guide's Joe's wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) on her Valium induced delusions.
Angels in America is full of the most amazing combination of witty, poignant, and politically charismatic dialogue with imagery of the awe of heaven and the reality of the ground of earth. While not everyone may appreciate it, the irony of Streep and Thompson playing the role of several characters added a sort of neo-fantastic irony that kept me both amused and humble.