This drama and comedy woven together in an inseparable fibre, moved me so much, I dreamt about one of the protagonists,Prior (The Prophet) the night I saw the final episode.
This HBO mini-series, based on the play by
A powerhouse drama, boasting a powerhouse cast–Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson and Jeffery Wright–and an unbelievably well written, aching poignant screenplay written by (insert name here) and directed by Mike Nichols.
This is a the face of AIDS. Not the glossy charity-ball sponsored, research, ‘education campaign’-style face of AIDS in the new millennium. It is the face of AIDS before anybody knew it was more than the gay plague.
It’s in New York City, 1986. Prior Walter escorts his lover Lewis to his grandmother’s funeral. The rabbi, eerily played by Meryl Streep (I knew it was her! Credits confirmed it!), who doesn’t know the deceased, manages to deliver a moving eulogy based on nothing more than the affinity he had with her journey as a refugee, and the common history of many of the people attending the funeral.
Prior and Lewis walk home, and the banter between snaps, crackles, pops. It is clear that these two are madly in love with one another and they are young and in New York in the middle of the ‘gimme gimme’ excess of the 80’s and all it entailed.
After the devastating revelation comes, Prior is HIV positive and AIDS symptomatic, this story begins to peel back the layers of this story.
This is not just a story about Prior and Lewis, it is also a story about Harper (Mary Louise Parker). Harper is a Valium popping house wife married to Joe (Wilson Patrick). Harper is lost in her own magic world, which overlaps Prior’s on occasion. In the haze she exists in, she struggles to come to grips with Joe’s physical and emotional withdrawal. Joe. and up and coming aide in the city administration is trying to come to grips with his homosexuality in the face of Mormon upbringing and his burgeoning career.
It is also the story about Roy Cohn (Al Pacino), Joe’s erstwhile boss and surrogate father figure, based on the real life character who died of AIDS in 1986. Roy, is the powerful, quasi-evil face of the righteous right that paints a picture of morality while in the dark engages in the same behaviour he condemns others in public for. Roy is a bastard, he is dying of AIDS and, bullies his doctor (James Cromwell) into writing his paperwork up as liver cancer, because if he is dying, he’s not going down in the book as having died of AIDS. That’s a disease of the powerless, not the powerful. He bullies one of his lackeys into providing him with a secret cache of AZT, experimental in the mid-80s, in his bedroom. Pacino, is mesmerising in parts, having the most interesting dialogue with the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (also played by Streep), a convicted and executed Russian spy, whose demise was aided by Cohn during the McCarthy era; and with the gay African American nurse, Belize(Jeffery Wright), who also happens to be friends with Prior and Lewis.
Lawd have mercy, this story bobs and weaves!
While Prior begins to suffer with the symptoms of AIDS, Lewis deserts him and enters into his own guilty self torture. Prior, in what is a strange fabulist element to the story, begins to interact with an angel and discovers that he is The Prophet. The angel declares, “The Great Work Begins”.
The story weaves these lives together, everyone connecting in this story, which moves from the very bitter, to the amazing sweet, to rip roaringly funny, to the incisive and defiant. It also bogs down in places, but acquits itself repeatedly over the course of the six part series.
The acting is, with a cast such as this, wrenching and gripping. Wright continues to prove that he is quality, and I truly hope he rises to the top of the game in Hollywood. Someone needs to give him an Oscar-worthy role and let him loose! Pacino, is effortless as usual, as the villian-of-sorts. Streep is also ‘on’.