Children of 'Angels': A GENERATION OF PLAYWRIGHTS REFLECTS ON A PLAY THAT STILL SETS THE BAR HIGH FOR THEIR WORK

American Theatre, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Children of 'Angels': A GENERATION OF PLAYWRIGHTS REFLECTS ON A PLAY THAT STILL SETS THE BAR HIGH FOR THEIR WORK


In their new book, The World Only Spins Forward, Isaac Butler and Dan Kois assemble a cast of thousands to tell the story of the gestation, birth, childhood, and long life of Tony Kushner's "gay fantasia on national themes," Angels in America. Among the sidebars to the narrative, which spans 1978 (the assassination of activist and San Francisco city official Harvey Milk) to the present day, is a compendium of quotes from younger playwrights for whom Angels was a powerful formative experience. Their accounts of the play's impact on them--most credit it with helping to inspire them to write for the stage at all--run the gamut of awed praise, dramaturgical insight, personal revelation, anxiety of influence, and questioning of a field where the vaulting ambition of Angels is hardly the norm. Below is an exclusive excerpt.

STEVEN LEVENSON (Dear Evan Hansen and If I Forget): My Angels origin story was my freshman year of college.

TRACEY SCOTT WILSON (The Good Negro and Buzzer): I had just started writing plays, I was living with my mother, I didn't have any money.

YOUNG JEAN LEE (Lear and Straight White Men): It was right after I'd decided to drop out of grad school to become a playwright.

SAMUEL HUNTER (A Bright New Boise and The Whale): When I was about 17, I came out of the closet and left the fundamentalist Christian high school I was attending.

STEPHEN KARAM (Sons of the Prophet and The Humans): I was 18 or 19, a freshman in college at Brown. I was having a rough time coming out of the closet.

MAC ROGERS (The Message and The Honeycomb Trilogy): I was visiting New York from North Carolina with my mother and sister.

ITAMAR MOSES (The Band's Visit and The Fortress of Solitude): Towards the end of my junior year of high school, I was visiting colleges. I stayed with a friend at Wesleyan and he was reading the script for class.

CHRISTOPHER SHINN (Dying City and Against): I remember driving with my mom to see it. I was 18 and we were, you know, listening to Nirvana.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA (Hamilton and In the Heights): Angels was the first play I saw on Broadway. I'm, you know, a musicals guy. Dan Futterman was on Louis. And the late great David Margulies was on Roy Cohn. It was 1994, so I'm 14 years old.

JORDAN HARRISON (Marione Prime and Maple and Vine): I was 16 and my grandparents bought us tickets to the national tour in Boston.

TAYLOR MAC (A 24-Decade History of Popular Music): When I moved to New York both parts were playing on Broadway and, after paying for the full version, I would second-act both parts multiple times a week. That way I could see them for free.

ANNE WASHBURN (Mr. Burns, a post-electric play and 10 Out of 12): I first saw a touring production in Portland, Ore. I think I left at intermission of Millennium only because it was a hopelessly remote experience, but I got the books and really first came to the play that way.

HUNTER: The University of Idaho was mounting a production of Millennium Approaches, and I saw it at least four or five times.

ZAKIYYAH ALEXANDER (10 Things to Do Before I the and Sick?): I went to LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. My best friend performed the scene in acting class where Prior puts on makeup and joins Harper's hallucination.

KARA LEE CORTHRON (Welcome to Fear City and AliceGraceAnon): I was assigned to read Millennium Approaches for a script analysis class.

KARAM: They were holding auditions for a production on campus. I remember buying Part 1 at College Hill Bookstore, and then rolling off my twin bed and speed-walking down Thayer Street to buy Perestroika.

ZOE KAZAN (We Live Here and After the Blast): I read Angels in three different classes. In playwriting, in a Brecht class, and an intro-to-theatre class.

MASHUQ MUSHTAQ DEEN (Draw the Circle): It was years before I ever saw a production of it, but I knew exactly what the Angel breaking through the ceiling looked like, knew exactly how the snow fell around Harper. …

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