“Floating in a Most Peculiar Way: Angels in America, David Bowie, Toneelgroep Amsterdam” Dr. Denis Flannery (University of Leeds)(23 October 2013)

Dr. Denis Flannery of the School of English in the University of Leeds presented a paper at UCC’s Research Seminars entitled “Floating in a Most Perculiar Way”: Angels in America, David Bowie, Toneelgroep Amsterdam.

Angels in America takes place in New York during the eighties. “It is a mosaic of stories about people struggling with love, sexuality and disastrous consequences of AIDS” according to Dr. Flannery’s written description on the day. The plot opens with Louis Ironson learning that his lover Prior Walter has AIDS, unable to cope as his condition deteriorates, he deserts him. The marriage of Joe and Harper Pitt falls apart and Roy Cohn an extreme-right lawyer, who himself is deeply closeted, soon discovers he also has AIDS.

“Angels in America is a feast to play because all the great themes of life are touched on in a moving and intelligent way: the fear of death, the love of life, impossible loves, searching for your true self, prejudice and the unstoppable impulse to grow.” (Barry Atsma, who played Joe Pitt in the production from 2008 to 2012 in Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s brochure for 2012-13) Angels in America was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 and was made into a movie starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.

What really caught my attention about this was that fact that David Bowie provides every piece of music and sound in the play. However, the musical reference in the text is nothing to do with Bowie. He seems to ‘float’ above and through the production, as though he is an ‘involuntary solvent of himself’. Bowie also seems to float between recognition and anonymity. While at times we are unaware of his less familiar pieces, others are strikingly obvious. An example of this is when the major black point of the production occurs, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance is played in the background right through until a needle scratching signals the end of the song.

The play, which is five hours long with only a thirty minute interval, has been referred to as a ‘marathon’. Flannery quoted theatre director Ivan Van Hove on centring a production on David Bowie’s work “Suddenly when this play was there I immediately knew.” Van Hove was also quoted referring to himself “not as a theatre director but as an architect of emotions.” Interestingly Bowie’s Music was something that Wim Selles the musical director had never listened to.


Videos Cited

Emimusic. #David Bowie – Let’s Dance”. Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube. 6 Mar. 2009. Web. 23 October 2013.

Luca. “Angels In America [ Official HBO Trailer ]”. Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube. 28 Nov 2008. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.

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