- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

“Perestroika,” Part 2 of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on HBO. The first three hours of the AIDS-oriented drama directed by Mike Nichols played a week ago. Part 2 is, regrettably, just about as bombastic and hollow as the first part.

Thanks to the performance of Meryl Streep, who is on camera here more than in Part 1, you may be in for a couple of little surprises that have infinitely more to do with Miss Streep’s magisterial talents than Mr. Kushner’s writing ability.

Roy Cohn (Al Pacino, mercifully inanimate) lies dead on his hospital bed. Belize (the admirably talented Jeffrey Wright) has brought Lou (the man who deserted his lover rather than stand by him on learning he was mortally afflicted with AIDS) as a Jew to say kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, over the body of Cohn. Lou is outraged, as he, like author Kushner, deems Roy Cohn the most wicked soul to have ever walked the face of the earth.

Belize quickly explains to him that his only way of getting out of the hospital the 60 extremely rare and precious bottles of AZT that Cohn has been hoarding is by hiding them in Lou’s backpack. “Security won’t search you, but they would me,” Belize explains. “But,” protests Lou, “I don’t know kaddish. What would my New Deal pinko parents in Westchester think — me saying kaddish for Roy Cohn?”

Belize insists.

Awkwardly, Lou stumbles over what little Hebrew he can call up from memory, when Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep) who has already chortled with glee at Cohn’s dying, suddenly materializes at his side and recites kaddish that somehow Lou can repeat along with her. The moment is very fragile, but curiously moving. Ethel Rosenberg is saying the ancient prayer for the dead over the man who sent her to her death. Forgiveness comes in the very clinging to a millennia-old ritual.

One of the few scenes in the entire six hours of “Angels” with lift-you-out-of-your-seat power is when the angel (Emma Thompson) makes a tremendous entrance through the ceiling of the AIDS patient’s (Justin Kirk) room accompanied by thunder, lightning and rain, and a great burst of music. “I will not be compelled,” she roars, wings tipped in black with black leather laced tightly about her body. She is, for those few moments, a veritable goddess of wrath incarnate. This scene owes everything to director Nichols and his director of photography Stephen Goldblatt.

Having dispatched the AIDS patient up a fiery ladder into a dream heaven, the angel turns her attention to Meryl Streep — cowering in terror beside the hospital bed — and looks into her eyes, extending her arms toward her. We only see Miss Streep’s face expressing surprise, delight, confusion, as the angel is clearly producing one mighty heavenly orgasm. Miss Streep’s face is wonderfully, wondrously expressive.

Then, leaping ahead to 1990, Mr. Kushner abruptly does a massive change of pace and gives us a sticky sweet happy end to beat all happy ends. From thundering fulminations against the Reagan and Bush administrations, we are suddenly catapulted into the land of joy and delight.

Three of our principals are meeting up five years later at the Bethesda fountain in Central Park (the same spot where the six-hour program opened) — Belize, the kindly night-duty nurse, their good friend Meryl Streep in her role of the warmhearted, Midwestern American Mom and the AIDS patient (Justin Kirk), who is now in good health and back on friendly terms with his former lover Lewis.

“We won’t die secret deaths anymore,” the AIDS patient declares. “We will be citizens. The time will come. The great work begins.”

The speechifying is a fitting conclusion to the speechifying six-hour drama.

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