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By N. Pressley

Two decades after Tony Kushner's influential Angels in the US looked as if it would claim a revitalized efficiency for the preferred political play, there's a "No Politics" prejudice undermining US creation and writing. This booklet explores the mostly unrecognized cultural styles that discourage political playwriting at the modern American level.

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Additional resources for American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice: Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Perspectives

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The American critical habitus is not to cooperate with political theater, with consequences that quite practically circle back to the act of creation. Bennett notes that drama is different from other arts in that failed shows—those that don’t sell enough tickets—can “collapse” the theaters that produce them. Thus, Bennett observes, “pre-performance evaluation certainly reduces the range of productions available and does this more stringently than other kinds of artistic production” (53). The elements of “pre-performance evaluation” are not limited to reviews, of course; marketing and socioeconomic considerations are among the other factors that come into play.

He addressed the difficulties of embracing such a calling—“It feels much like coming out of the closet, only lonelier” (Kushner “Notes” 26)—and the difficulties of definition and practice. The essay is worth quoting at some length for its cogently itemized, powerful diagnosis. Despite the deep archive of the American playwright as social critic, there is, in fact, a problem—a disturbing break with tradition, a void of activist voices taking the stage: It is incredibly hard to use, unembarassedly, words like oppressed and oppressors, even in an essay, and even more so onstage.

Canby detected echoes of Chekhov in the wistful ineffectuality of certain characters, yet he also embraced Kushner’s broad comic style. ’ uses cartoon figures to suggest that man’s ability to bear up under the unbearable isn’t limitless. After being flattened by a steamroller, it suggests, people don’t pop back into shape like Bugs Bunny” (Canby). , however, pales next to that of Angels, despite its comparatively softer demands on audiences and producers in terms of time and resources, and its similar ease of accessibility.

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