The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America

The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America

The oral history of Angels in America, told by artists who created it and audiences forever changed by it-a moving account of the AIDS era, essential queer history, and an exuberant backstage taleWhen Tony Kushner's Angels in America hit Broadway in 1993, it won the Pulitzer Prize, swept the Tonys, and changed the way gay lives were represented in popular culture. Mike Nic...

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Title:The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America
Author:Isaac Butler
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Edition Language:English

The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America Reviews

  • Jeff

    Oral histories are eminently bingeable. Like binge-until-you're-queasyworthy. But most of the oral histories I've read have been about subjects like Saturday Night Live, full of gossip and anecdots about a subject I know a lot about.

    Angels in America, on the other hand, I'm only superficially familiar with, and this book makes me almost ashamed I haven't seen it every chance I could. Butler and Kois do a masterful job in telling the complicated, inspiring story of a complicated, inspiring work

    Oral histories are eminently bingeable. Like binge-until-you're-queasyworthy. But most of the oral histories I've read have been about subjects like Saturday Night Live, full of gossip and anecdots about a subject I know a lot about.

    Angels in America, on the other hand, I'm only superficially familiar with, and this book makes me almost ashamed I haven't seen it every chance I could. Butler and Kois do a masterful job in telling the complicated, inspiring story of a complicated, inspiring work of art. And it's so much more than anecdotes — it's the actors, directors, and the playwright himself dissecting each character and each moment, offering a critical review more profound than any Norton Critical Edition could ever be.

    It left me wanting to create more art, to have great ambitions and not worry about whether they're perfectly realized.

  • Jill Meyer

    There are very few theatrical productions that both recount the change of history and make that recount a change in itself. "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes" by Tony Kushner is one such production. Appearing in the mid-1980's and continuing to this day, Kushner's play(s) give the AIDS epidemic a "face" by showing different bits of society who were affected by disease. By having a cast which included such characters as Roy Cohn and Ethel Rosenberg being surrounded by unknown

    There are very few theatrical productions that both recount the change of history and make that recount a change in itself. "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes" by Tony Kushner is one such production. Appearing in the mid-1980's and continuing to this day, Kushner's play(s) give the AIDS epidemic a "face" by showing different bits of society who were affected by disease. By having a cast which included such characters as Roy Cohn and Ethel Rosenberg being surrounded by unknown people who carry the play's plot (to the extent there is a plot.) I never saw the plays at theaters but did see the wonderful HBO production in 2003 and read Tony Kushner's revised edition of the play, published in 2014.

    Isaac Butler's new book, "The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America" is the story, basically, of the play's productions going forward from 1985. He interviews many of the cast members, production people, and those involved in the writing, direction, and finances of the play. The author, of course, is Tony Kushner, whose almost feverish writing and rewriting of the play was continuous over the first few years. Kushner combined the politics of AIDS with the personal of gay identity. He includes religious identity; several of the main characters were Mormon. (Hhhm, I wonder if the idea of "The Book of Mormon" came in part from "Angels"?)

    "Angels in America" was produced on stages from London to Los Angeles and played for many years in New York. The play began in San Francisco, produced at the Eureka Theater, a small local theater. Oskar Eustis was the producer and he and Kushner worked together with their actors and stage crews to put on the first production. But the play, as Kushner kept writing, was so long that it was eventually broken up into two plays. Who had the stamina to star in two plays? The mostly young cast who entertained the rapturous audiences who had the stamina to sit for hours! From San Francisco, the play headed to Los Angeles, and then on into the wider world.

    Bishop's book is written in chapters which are short interviews with various cast and crew. I really don't care for this form of non-fiction, but the subject was so well covered that the writing style didn't bother me. I mention this only because some readers don't like this style.

  • Doug

    4.5, rounded up. Considering I read this over 400 page book in less than 24 hours, it would be disingenuous of me to give it anything less than 5 stars. There are definite problems with both the book AND its subject, but structuring over 250 oral interviews into a consistently informative and entertaining format is a daunting task at which the authors largely succeed.

    Having taught the first part of the play during an LGBT theatre course at USF nearly twenty years ago - and knowing a few of the

    4.5, rounded up. Considering I read this over 400 page book in less than 24 hours, it would be disingenuous of me to give it anything less than 5 stars. There are definite problems with both the book AND its subject, but structuring over 250 oral interviews into a consistently informative and entertaining format is a daunting task at which the authors largely succeed.

    Having taught the first part of the play during an LGBT theatre course at USF nearly twenty years ago - and knowing a few of the principals quoted - made me appreciate the long and complicated history of the play even more, and I am glad that the prickliness of Kushner was not glossed over (having come under his wrath myself once for asking him an indelicate question at a theatre conference). I only wish I had re-read the play, or at least seen the HBO or NT films of it prior to reading this... it would have made some sections much clearer, but mea culpa.

  • Harry McDonald

    I got through >400 pages in 26ish hours, so this gets 5 stars.

    The World Only Spins Forward is an oral history of the context, inception, premiere, and legacy of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, with the contributions of many people who have been involved with and touched by this play, from the 1980s to the present day. A lot of the history of the play has previously been accessible, so where this book really excels is in the other stories, the actors who were left behind in the workshops, th

    I got through >400 pages in 26ish hours, so this gets 5 stars.

    The World Only Spins Forward is an oral history of the context, inception, premiere, and legacy of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, with the contributions of many people who have been involved with and touched by this play, from the 1980s to the present day. A lot of the history of the play has previously been accessible, so where this book really excels is in the other stories, the actors who were left behind in the workshops, the legal wranglings and so on.

    In between the history, there are character interludes; actors talking about the characters in the play, the demands of playing them, the joys and the difficulties. They're wonderful to read.

    Reading this book genuinely helps to articulate why Angels in America means so much to me - simply because you can see how much it means to many other people.

  • Jeff Santilli

    I absolutely loved this book and could reread it immediately. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in theatre and its creation. The interviews revealed new layers of meaning and ways of thinking about the play, and made me even more excited to see it again.

  • Simon

    The book is an absolutely essential aid to reading the play. On a personal note (I live in the area, and was doing theatre at the time), it also included a section about the notorious Charlotte Rep production in the mid-90s. People interviewed include Perry Tannenbaum, longtime drama critic for

    , Steve Umberger, who directed the play and Keith Martin, the managing director of the Rep. Tannenbaum and Umberger are interesting (Tannenbaum has an insider's knowledge of Charlotte poli

    The book is an absolutely essential aid to reading the play. On a personal note (I live in the area, and was doing theatre at the time), it also included a section about the notorious Charlotte Rep production in the mid-90s. People interviewed include Perry Tannenbaum, longtime drama critic for

    , Steve Umberger, who directed the play and Keith Martin, the managing director of the Rep. Tannenbaum and Umberger are interesting (Tannenbaum has an insider's knowledge of Charlotte politics, both cultural and civic). Martin is . . . well, occasionally not quite accurate in terms of what the production was trying to do. But the interviews with the dozens of people who midwifed the play's birth were fascinating. Butler pays surprisingly little attention to the HBO Mike Nichols film, concentrating instead upon the San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London stagings. Riveting, whether you are interested in the play as literature

    theatre.

    Highly recommend.

  • Lorri Steinbacher

    Compelling oral history that highlights just how strongly this play affected the people involved in the various productions of it, the audiences, and the world at large. Its continuing impact cannot be overstated. The structure of the book is excellent: interviews with the actors, directors, and producers broken up with detailed examinations of each of the main characters of the play by the actors who portrayed them. Also, sidebars with acting students, teachers, critics and a timeline that incl

    Compelling oral history that highlights just how strongly this play affected the people involved in the various productions of it, the audiences, and the world at large. Its continuing impact cannot be overstated. The structure of the book is excellent: interviews with the actors, directors, and producers broken up with detailed examinations of each of the main characters of the play by the actors who portrayed them. Also, sidebars with acting students, teachers, critics and a timeline that includes key moments in the history of the play and in the political climate for each production. It's an oral history filled with respect and love, but also with heartache. You cannot separate the many, many lives lost to the AIDS epidemic from the force driving the play, and even today its messages resonate (surely more than we ever thought they would).

  • CarolineFromConcord

    The authors of this history of "Angels in America" (a seven-hour play now 25 years old) and the world from which it grew interviewed scores of people and organized their often powerful words in script form. It was challenging to keep track of who the speakers were, and I kept flipping back to see the mini identifications that appear in each chapter. Was that speaker the Angel in San Francisco in 1995 or Joe in London in 2017? And I wondered if a reader who had never seen the play could follow wh

    The authors of this history of "Angels in America" (a seven-hour play now 25 years old) and the world from which it grew interviewed scores of people and organized their often powerful words in script form. It was challenging to keep track of who the speakers were, and I kept flipping back to see the mini identifications that appear in each chapter. Was that speaker the Angel in San Francisco in 1995 or Joe in London in 2017? And I wondered if a reader who had never seen the play could follow what was being discussed, as knowledge of the plot seems a prerequisite. Recent knowledge of the plot would be even better.

    But there is no denying that this record is an extraordinary contribution to our understanding of America, the AIDS crisis, the history of the the gay rights movement, and the politics of both the Reagan years and the current dark time. But perhaps the book's greatest achievement is to give vibrant life to just what this play meant to people who were dying or losing loved ones to a terrifying plague. It's a moving book.

    I found it interesting that the best lines did not come from celebrities who were involved in the various productions or touched by them (people like former Congressman Barney Frank, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, or actors Nathan Lane and Meryl Streep) but from less known actors, stagehands, costume and lighting designers who were deeply touched by all they witnessed. The small details spoke more loudly than the sweeping generalizations about the play's place in history. One interviewee witnessed members of the audience at one performance softly accompanying the words of the Kaddish (Jewish death rites) spoken by an actor who was saying them for a character so evil as to seem beyond empathy but one whose final suffering revealed his humanity.

    Playwright Tony Kushner is no doubt a genius, but one almost feels that he was channeling inspiration from a higher source like the writers of the Bible. Toward the middle of the book, the hurt he caused people because he "had to protect the play" made me modify my admiration. And it was interesting that having been an obsessive control freak about the details of every production for many years, he suddenly changes his mind about essentials when a loosely overseen version takes a new tack. He's fine with an opera that just uses vignettes. He loves that the Angel in a Netherlands production doesn't fly. What? Former Angels that were traumatized by accidents didn't need to have suffered? Huh. Then again, having an array of interviewees shows that different people had different reactions to their roles. There were Angels who totally loved the clumsy flying.

    The show is now back on Broadway with Nathan Lane.

  • Dave Cotton

    If you are reading, working on a production, or planning to see "Angels in America" this book will be helpful. I did gain some insight into some of the themes and the structure of the plays. But the structure of the BOOK was a bit chaotic. It was like being in a large room with a bunch of people all talking at the same time about the plays.

    Just my two cents.

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