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November 17, 2012


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I think it's interesting that despite the fact that the American theater is seen as largely apolitical, the notion of consensus here centers around large works with political implications -- Salesman to Angels. Individuals describing something as murky as consensus will always be a fraught way to talk about things. I think there's a relatively broad consensus around Glengarry and Fences being as epic as Angels, but one thing we won't get here at Parabasis is people talking about what it was like to see those plays when they premiered, as you describe with Angels. Similarly, Long Day's Journey Into Night and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are plays whose impact registered greatly on a national scale and is still being felt. Also, there is an extremely broad consensus -- though likely not among Parabasis readers -- that The Odd Couple is a great American play.

Jacob Zimmer

I wonder also if that 20 year pre-gap, the "great plays" [and I agree that all these namings are flawed] weren't as script based. Seeing the 49-90 gap written in the post, my image of that time in American theatre of scale (from the perspective of a Canadian) is of downtown NYC - Wooster, Wilson - does this feel like a totally different comparison? The thing that struck me about Angels was that it was such a *play.*

Scott Walters

I really don't see that there is any comparison between "Glengarry" or "Fences" and "Angels." The first two are solid traditional plays, the latter is a tour de force. What makes it great, in my opinion, is that it combines in the same play intellectual AND emotional power while asking deeply ethical questions. You would have to go back a long ways to find another play with such a combination.


If this country is ever again visited by such a plague as AIDs that effects such a large demographic of theatergoers, then we will produce another play like AinA, but probably not until then. And let's hope that day never comes. Could it be more about the times we live in than with the playwrights or playwriting or play development? (I was fortunate to see Part I while still in previews on Bway and Part II the very same week - a rare doubleplay.)

While I'm all for The Odd Couple, and would add Hair and A Chorus Line to the underrated category, I pick The Crucible/"red scare" as the next closest play/times to AinA, just not as epic. The Wilson Collection is a close 2nd for me. After that, you have to go to the WPA/FTP days and plays for both epic and relevance. There were several of those plays at a time when life sucked for more than just blacks and gay people.



You bring up a really interesting point. One thing that doesn't' come up in convos of Angels enough anymore is its context as the pinnacle of a whole slew of plays that came to be roughly called The AIDS Play. Angels didn't come out of nowhere, in other words. And "The AIDS Play" gave us a bunch of other really good-to-great (and often great) plays that were overshadowed by Angels, be it "The Normal Heart" or "Pterodactyls" or "The Baltimore Waltz" (still my favorite Paula Vogel play) or the musical "Falsettos". A lot of those plays and musicals were in heavy, heavy rotation in the DC theater scene that I grew up in.

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