Unless he has exceptional powers of self-delusion, anyone who writes regularly on the American theater soon grows uncomfortably aware that he’s engaged in a kind of ongoing obituary column. That’s not metaphorical but literal: these days, the best shows on Broadway are its memorial services, when great actors, writers, producers emerge from involuntary retirement to lay on a spiffy send-off for one more of their ever dwindling ranks. Moreover, even the non-memorial shows wrap themselves in shrouds, as if seeking the ultimate security blanket. Angels in America gave us the angel of Death; now, Jonathan Larson’s Rent gives us the death of Angel.

Angel is, inevitably, an hiv-riddled transvestite sculptor in the East Village, where the drama is set and, indeed, where it’s playing (AT THE NEW YORK THEATRE WORKSHOP). AIDS has glamorized death to a ...

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