Airing on YouTube, last night’s The Great Work Begins: Scenes from "Angels in America" benefitting the amfAR Fund to Fight COVID-19, was a production unimaginable as recently as seven months ago — a purely mobile produced, acted and directed experience. But here we are, with theatre shut down in so many spots all over the world, none more economically effected than here in New York City. The 14.8-billion-dollar theatre industry has nearly 100,000 people out of work right now and the irony was not lost on me that, after watching scenes from Tony Kushner's masterwork unfold last night, I awoke this morning to the following headline:

It was perhaps prophetic (in ways even Kushner might not have thought imaginable), though that really shouldn't be too suprising as over the past near-thirty years, the playwright has given us aid and comfort by the power and yes, majesty, of his Herculean effort that is Angels in America. The broadcast last night, featuring but a handful of scenes, once again gave voice to the healing power theatre can bring. Even pared back to bare staging, luxuriating in the language filled my soul. It’s a play written by a poet that abounds with extraordinary eloquence and resonance (and humor — don't forget humor).

I, for one, am grateful.

If you missed it, the good news is that The Great Work Begins will remain online for the next six days until October 15th. It's a sixty-minute ride through a handful of scenes, done with love and commitment by a troupe of artists, a good number of whom would never get the chance to play their assigned roles in otherwise conventional productions. Even though in its original version certain men's roles were played by women, I never thought I would see the day when Glenn Close, at age seventy-three, would gallantly portray the hideous Roy Cohen on his deathbed (opposite S. Epatha Merkerson, no less, in the male role of Belize). Here's a link to the whole thing it in all its glory:

The actors who take part in all this are a wonderful mix ranging from the mixed-race 35-old Vella Lovell to the 89-year-old Lois Smith both in the roles of the young, white, Mormon Harper Pitt. In fact, Smith's performance of Harper's last monologue on the flight to San Francisco stood out in its ability, by way of this unconventional casting, to completely change its meaning and intention. Coming as it did from such a mature (and oh-so-gifted) actress as Lois Smith was revelatory. Also appearing were such heavyweight talents as Paul Dano, Linda Emond, Jeremy O. Harris, Bryan Tyree Henry, Nikki James, Laura Linney, Patti LuPone, Larry Owens, Andrew Rannells, Brandon Uranowitz and Daphne Ruben-Vega. Kudos to Taylor Williams, credited for the casting (and, of course, to Ellie Heyman for directing the entire enterprise).

For those who are as infatuated as I am with Angels in America, surely know of the book The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America. Published in 2018, it is an indespensible oral history of the play and all those who contributed to its creation and success in the thousands of productions it has received worldwide. As an addendum, I was thrilled to see that the authors, Isaac Buttler and Dan Koi, posted this article at Slate early yesterday morning, which I offer here for any additional information you need on last night's production:

And please, if you choose to watch The Great Work Begins (and even if you don't), consider donating to amFar. First created in 1985 to fight the AIDS plague, iis now, once again, fighting another:

The Great Work is never done.

If you enjoy these columns, check out Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, available at in hardcover, softcover and e-book. And please feel free to email me with comments or questions at

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Ron Fassler

Ron Fassler is a theatre historian, drama critic and author of "Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway."