By Isaac Butler
Mike Boehm asks in the LA Times whether it would be possible to create Angels in America today:
Can such great voyages still exist?
Could five years, more than $2 million in today's currency and so much of an audience's time be set aside to write, develop and perform an unprecedented kind of work by an unproven playwright?
There's no simple answer, based on recent interviews with Kushner, with several key figures who accompanied him along the play's path and with longtime leaders in the field of new-play development.
The obstacles to the creation of such a play have grown, most of them say, but they're unwilling to bet against the art form's continuing fecundity and determination.
I am reminded again of Todd London's way of putting it: That we live in a time of unprecendented abundence w/r/t New Plays and New Play development and production. But it feels like scarcity. I'm not saying Angels would be possible (or im) today, but it's something worth thinking about.
It's also worth thinking about our intolerance for failure. Prior to Angels, Tony Kushner had written the widely disliked Bright Room Called Day, which Frank Rich, soon to be amongst Kushner's greatest champions, called "fatuous". His other major work, Hydriotaphia, was self-produced in a theater with no air conditioning in TriBeCa in the summer after he graduated from NYU and starred all of his friends. Oh, also, he got his MFA in directing, not playwrighting.
So it really is remarkable that Angels happened. And you know what else happend during that time? Theaters all over the country, including the ones that helped create Angels took risks on new plays that didn't pan out. That were artistic or commercial failures. That never realized their ambitions. That, well, sucked. It's not a risk if success is guaranteed.
Kushner is not the only example of this. I remember reading a review of a double bill of John Guare plays (Cop-Out and Home Fires) that flopped on Broadway and one of the reviews ends with a sentence that, to paraphrase, says, "So yes, these plays are a disaster, but next year he's suposed to have this play called House of Blue Leaves, so hopefully that one will be better."
Writing plays is hard. Very hard. Producing them can be even harder, particularly when the plays attempt something ambitious or new. But one thing Kushner and Guare had in common, the risk that was taken on their work early on, is that it was actually produced. Kushner took the risk by sinking his own money (I think it was $3000 if memory serves) into Hydriotaphia and directing and producing it himself. The Public took the risk on Bright Room. Broadway producers bet a lot of money on John Guare twice, and the second time paid off. See update below.
Anyway, the LA Times piece is an interesting article. You should check it out.
UPDATE: Howard Sherman writes in to the comments below with a quick factual correctiong (this is what happens when you try to remember shit rather than look it up). House of Blue Leaves premiered off-broadway two years later. The point still stands, however, that someone continued to take a risk on Guare after a very high profile flop.