Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Angels in America review: Part Two: Raving

Let's do a history lesson. Fun, right?

In 1994, I was a repeat-freshman at the University of Alabama. Sort of. I mean, I was enrolled there. I was registered for classes, some of which I attended. I had a dorm room--my dormmate was, no kidding, an epileptic Japanese exchange student who barely spoke English, and enjoyed watching video tapes sent to him from his parents.

Here's what my roommate watched: Japanese game shows. 'Family Ties' dubbed into Japanese. WWII documentaries. And every now and then he'd fall down on the ground, trembling and jitter-bugging, and I'd try to keep him from harming himself.

The thing about that is that I barely knew the guy. I couldn't really communicate with him, or he with me, and so we spent most of our time together in the dorm room playing charades with one another. He didn't know anything about me, and I didn't know anything about him, even though we'd seen each other naked, we'd heard each other farting, snoring. I'd seen him cry, once, when he came back from a mall in Tuscaloosa, and had apparently experienced a seizure while at the mall, and was embarrassed. He'd seen me cry, too, but I doubt he understood why I was crying. (I was crying because of Angels in America, but I'll get to that in a sec.)

And there I was sometimes, on the floor, touching him, using my hands to keep him still, pulling him to the center of the room away from furniture, cooing at him in hope of soothing him during his epileptic seizures, cooing in a language he didn't understand.

He once told me, "Don't get it. Your language, you have prepositions. My language, we don't. We don't walk through the park because it's obvious. Walk park. No through."

His name was Yu, so you can imagine how like an Abbot and Costello routine conversations with friends and family were whenever I'd discuss my dormlife. "Yu had another seizure," I'd say. "No, I didn't," Friend or Family would reply. "No, not you," I'd say. "Yu." First base.

At the U of Alabama, I spent most of my time reading. Still working thru the murky waters of sexuality, I read a lot of gay lit--I felt as if I were catching up, since I'd never really read queer literature before. When I moved into the dorm, I was reading Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask. Yu saw the book, and commented on it. It was probably our first attempt at mutual communication.

"Mishima," he said, with a rough gesture towards the book.

"Right." I held the book up. I loved the book. I wanted to discuss it.

"Crazy," Yu said. I thought he meant it was crazy an American was reading a Japanese author.

"How do the Japanese think of him?" I asked (quick thing about Mishima, in case you don't know: great writer; also, he created his own army of ninjas, attempted to take over the Japanese government, and committed ritual suicide. He was also happily gay).

"Crazy," Yu said again. "Gay." Yu dangled his hand from his wrist and rolled his eyes.

"Seppuku, too, right?" I said. Seppuku, btw, is the name of the suicide ritual Mishima went thru. I mimed a sword-stab to my belly.

"Gay," Yu said. To emphasize his point, he dangled both hands from both wrists, rolled his eyes again, and stuck his tongue out.

Right. Well. So, at U of AL, I didn't do much. I read, as I said--read a lot of queer lit, because I knew I needed to read a bit about where I'd come from. Really came from. Around this time, PBS aired the first 'Tales of the City' miniseries, so I watched that too. What I did not do was go to class, mostly because the first few classes I did attend were terrible and hostile, were not jibing with my, ah, self-exploration. Quick example: Western Civ 101. I asked a question about homosexuality in the Revolutionary Army (Western Civ, of course, began and ended in 1792), and the professor, a tweedy prep assistant with a balding pate and a smear of ink on his lip at all times as if he spent his time out of class making out with an ink well, replied, "Homosexuality in the Revolutionary Army might have happened, but I'm sure it was out of desperation. Like homosexuality in a prison."

Crazy, yu say.

Anyway, so I read. Skipped class. Spent my days--paid for by my parents, who would later be less than understanding about this--sitting by a lake, eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts, reading queer literature (also, Vonnegut and Barth, because why not, right?). One thing I read was Angels in America, Part One.


Changed my life. Simply put.

Being gay in AL is not a picnic. It's like being an epileptic at a mall in Tuscaloosa when you're unable to speak the native language: you feel self-conscious all the time, you want to communicate but can't, and there are times when you end up on the floor, doing inappropriate things, vibrating and beating at the ground.

For most of my life up until that point, I'd been convinced I was insane, and was resigned to my insanity. Seriously. Junior high, senior high, whatever, I was first convinced I was insane, then fought being insane, then decided, fuck it, I'll just be insane because it feels really nice when a guy I like likes me back. And because I like reading stories where guys like guys. And I like seeing movies where guys like guys. I'll be insane because it's nicer than when I'm sane.

Poison, for instance. Poison was a movie by Todd Haynes, featuring homoerotic this and homoerotic that, and when I saw it I couldn't stop thinking about it. Saw it in a room full of straight friends. The straight friends were into the 'art house movie' thing, but I was into the homoeroticism. There's a scene where a man in prison contemplates another man's body--the camera leers at the man's body, the man's scars, follows the curve of the man's back, the indention of the man's chest.

Tales of the City. I watched the miniseries on a small, crappy television in my dormroom with Yu sitting on his bed, muttering "Crazy" to himself. Laura Linney making herself at home in 1970s San Francisco, great, but there was a tender scene with two men and I'd never seen that before, I'd never been told my insanity was normal. Toxic yes--AIDS, Longtime Companion, death, hide--but never normal.

Angels in America. Bought it on January 13, 1994, read it over two days, then cried.

"Crazy," Yu said, offering me a tissue.

"Right," I replied, taking the tissue.

So that's the history I brought with me a few weeks back when I went to Signature Theatre to see a revival of Angels.

Angels in America is a sacred text. It is as dense as the Bhagavad Gita, as complex as the Torah. The scenes are like the verses of the New Testament. Each time a character speaks, I hear this: "You're not crazy."

Sitting in the dark, clasping my boyfriend's hand, this is the sad thing I thought: I'm a legitimate human being because there are people on the stage in front of me proving I exist.

True! When Louis--played by Zachary Quinto of 'Heroes' and Spock Trek fame--expressed his complicated love for his own partner, his fear of commitment and his need for penance, when he expressed his ambivalence for life and... well, when Louis questioned everything about himself but never, ever questions his love for men, when his homosexuality wasn't even Louis's main issue, I cry.

Prior! Prior Walter, played by Christian Borle, has AIDS, and at one point is on the floor shitting himself and begging Louis for help. And I see a normal man try to give him help, I see Yu on the floor having a seizure.

And this: when the Angel of Angels in America says, "Look up," I sat in the audience and wanted to look up, in the literal sense--I wanted to turn my face to the ceiling and see--what? Grace, hope, love.

In 1994, Angels in America was brilliant, was bold, was a beacon and a comfort. In 2010, it still is all of those things, but more. Not easy to explain without getting all weepy ("Crazy!" Yu might say, while thrusting Kleenex at me) but sitting in the audience of the revival, clutching--actually clutching!--Greg's hand, I remembered being my dumb, fragile self at the U of AL, and trying to come to terms with AIDS and parades in Greenwich and Harvey Milk and Yukio Mishima and E. M. Forster and God and men who love men, and history that isn't real history, and Revolutionary Armies that aren't so revolutionary. Sitting there with Greg, clutching his hand, watching Angels in America, I tried to work out how homosexuality came out of nowhere, how it had no real history.

Then I thought of Yu, weeping about his trip to the Tuscaloosa mall, and how he'd had a seizure.

I thought of Yu.

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