I saw the play on Broadway as well as the HBO Special and while it is, at its best, deserving of all the awards it won, at its worst it's the most flawed bit of play writing to be so honored. At its best it's about the quintessential human need to be accepted on our own terms, to not be judged (as represented, for example, in the short exchange between Hannah Pitt, the Mormon mother, and Prior Walter, when she chastised Prior for imagining he knew who she was and what she thought and felt). This reluctance to be judgmental allows Belize and Ethel Rosenburg to, in the end, forgive Roy Cohen and, in so doing, free themselves from the snare of bitterness. This sensibility is the real spiritual impulse, the real angel of our better natures, that informs the play.
At its worst the play gets stuck in a quagmire of childish, Reader's Digest theology. The religious figures in the play, including Prior as "the prophet," are about as credible as the hallucinatory talking Mormon dummies that speak to Harper Pitt. Kushner lays out a religious schema wherein "the prophet" rejects his calling because the spiritual hierarchy (in Kushner's addled brain) represents "stasis" whereas "the prophet" opts for what (in Kusher's addled brain)
is its opposite, some vague evolutionary impulse that in some vague way will, in the end, lead to "more life." When the angel appearing to Walter Prior is literally knocked head over teakettle by, what Kushner would have us believe, is the stunning originality of Prior's spiritual insights, I'm left feeling like someone just asked to turn over Manhattan for a handful of trinkets--insulted.
The play subliminally evokes a number of fascinating ironies. When the play comes alive it's because it manages, as every great work of fiction does, to "show" rather than "tell" its tale. Every "creator," every writer, must ask of himself what Prior asks of his lover, Louis, the "word processor"--"Show Me!" "Get out of your head and get real" But when Kusher's prophet goes before his "creator" he sounds just like Louis, totally in his head while asking for "more time" as if this is tantamount to "more life."
Kushner's worst failing as a theologian is to imagine that mere movement in time is the opposite of stasis. All Kusher's characters move through time, but gain more life only to the extent they are willing to transform, to change, to be accountable for their choices, or lack thereof, in life.
At its roots, Aids is an environmental disaster. Man was originally exposed to it by intruding on yet one more unspoiled corner of the world. The environmental disasters man has created are, to some extent, a natural part of his natural evolution. But what will, in the end, make them fatal is not some inevitable evolutionary force but his refusal to acknowledge, to take responsibility for, his own greed and rapacious desires.
Aids also need not have become the disaster it became if, early on, gay men were willing to ask themselves if "more sex" was really tantamount to "more life." Sometimes, less is more. Kushnner's prophet is deliciously, if unintentionally ironic; a character in a play of his own devising demanding from some reified God, an intervention while, simultaneously, refusing to see the hand he has in his own demise.