The afterlife of Tony Kushner’s ‘Angels in America’


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Ever since “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner has had to bear the burden of being the Great American Playwright. Fairly or unfairly, critics (including myself) have held him to an impossibly high standard.

It’s not entirely unreasonable. There have been many successful American plays since his two-part epic -- Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women,” Suzan-Lori Park’s “Topdog/Underdog,” Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt,” Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County.” But none have had quite the same cultural impact. And Kushner’s passionate intellectualism only further inflates our expectations.

Wisely, the playwright has avoided competition with himself. His work post-“Angels” has been unusually varied in both form and content. Yet even as the author perpetually reinvents himself, “Angels” looms as large as ever.


In a Sunday Arts & Books essay, I explore the influence the play has had on contemporary dramatists. This isn’t something I went hunting for -- or even anticipated. I assumed ‘Angels’ was inimitable. And in some respects, it is. But although the play’s subject matter may have become less topical, its style continues to exert an uncanny hold on writers as aesthetically diverse as Julia Cho, Rajiv Joseph, Lisa Kron and Christopher Shinn.

-- Charles McNulty\charlesmcnulty