A protester holds up a sign defaming homosexuality.

In 1993 when Angels in America by Tony Kushner opened on Broadway, no one was sure whether or not the country was ready for an AIDS play of this magnitude. Although Kushner had won the Pulitzer Prize for the play, America was still very anti-gay. The gay rights movement had not yet exploded into the revolution we see happening today. While some groups highly revered the play, and showered it with awards, other groups fervently protested its performances. The true merit of the piece comes out of the polarized opinions of it.

The play was very critically acclaimed in the theatre world. It was presented with numerous awards, including the Pulitzer, the 1993 and 1994 Tony Award for Best Play, and the Drama Desk Award. It was a revolutionary work that many thought to be the most poignant piece of theatre to hit the late 20th century. Actors in the original productions of the show won Tonys, Olivier Awards, and received many other recognitions. Almost across the bar, reviews of the show were positive. The New York Times said “Kushner has written the most thrilling American play in years.” It was being played nationally before its premiere on Broadway, and when it finally reached New York, it ran for a year and a half.

Despite its many praises from the theatre world, who tends to be a more liberal demographic, the play received huge backlash from conservative groups. Because of the plays themes, the blunt addressing of AIDS and homosexuality, and male nudity, the play underwent a lot of protest. Many conservative and religious groups considered the play a part of the “culture war” that was happening in America – that it was merely a tool to serve the gay agenda in destroying the American family. In North Carolina in 1996, the play was protested during its run at Charlotte Repertory Theatre Company, which led to future funding cuts for the company.

Although opinions of the show were completely polarized, the show remains today one of the most poignant and well-known pieces of theatre today. It deals with issues that are at the forefront of our society, and they cause a big stir in the people who see and read it. Whether or not it will fade into obscurity when subjects like homosexuality and AIDS become a thing of the past is unknown. For now, however, it acts as a beacon of hope in a budding gay rights movement.


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