Original Sin: Our Critics in Conversation about It’s a Sin (for Parterre Box)

Cameron Kelsall: David, one of our first ventures together was a collaborative review of The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez’s sprawling, two-part theatrical exploration of the gay generational divide. Although AIDS was not the central theme of that play, much of its drama hinged on the chasm between older gay men who lived through the epidemic and younger gay men who came of age in the shadow of its darkest days, and how those experiences irrevocably shaped their worldviews. At the risk of sounding cold, my memories of The Inheritance (a year and a half removed from seeing it) align largely with my perception of many AIDS dramas: regardless of whether they’re contemporaneous accounts or backward glances, they often indulge in maudlin sentimentalizing that serves to cheapen a devastatingly human reality. So one of the reasons I was drawn to Russell T Davies’ miniseries It’s a Sin—which recounts the grim early days of the epidemic in London—was the advanced press that suggested an unromanticized evocation of that era. (The five-episode series premiered on Channel 4 in the U.K., and is now available through HBO Max.) As an American, I was also eager to gain a broader perspective of how AIDS was treated internationally. Although I have quibbles here and there, I can safely say that this is the gay drama I’ve been waiting for: a genuinely devastating drama that doesn’t treat its characters like lambs waiting for the slaughter or overdose on weepiness, and a queer narrative that unapologetically centers the queer perspective. In short, a must-watch.

David Fox: I agree with you about the generally high quality—often exceptional—of It’s a Sin, which also counterpoints in my mind with The Inheritance… but I see them through a somewhat different perspective. Often, my initial interest in theatrical works that focus on AIDS is how the creators will tell their stories in terms of looking at the personal dimension, and also situating it within a larger historical and sociocultural frame. Both are necessary elements, but tricky to calibrate. We’ve talked a lot about this topic, and I think you have more reservations about Angels in America than I do—to me, the first part (Millennium Approaches) is stronger than the second (Perestroika), but both find a nearly ideal balance, which is especially impressive given that the work was written while the epidemic was raging. I think Kushner’s play has also stood the test of time—notwithstanding Marianne Elliott’s fumbled revival (I wrote at the time about the HDcast—click here if you’re interested). For myself, I’m less taken with The Normal Heart, which is heavily dominated by politics; and the very first AIDS story to make it to Broadway, As Is, was criticized for being too personal and disease-movie-of-the week in tone.  Anyway, I offer that long preamble by way of saying that I think It’s a Sin is overwhelmingly moving and powerful in part because it really finds the right mix, with the human dimension front-and-center, but the larger cultural history always present as well. The British setting is indeed a fascinating new insight for this American viewer, at least…

Click here to read the full post at Parterre Box.

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