“The Great Work begins.” When we first heard the Angel of America bellow that bulletin as the curtain came down on Part 1 of the play named for her and her band of anxious immortals, many of us who look to the theater for inspiration were, in fact, inspired. Tony Kushner’s “gay fantasia,” fusing the ambition, morality and underdog sympathies of earlier 20th century masters, felt not only like a great American play but like a culmination and reimagining of great American playness. It slammed a door open.
That was 1993. Exactly 25 years later, the first Broadway revival of “Angels in America” started us thinking about what has happened to American plays in the meantime. Have they been as great? Is their greatness different from what it was? Is “greatness” even a meaningful category anymore?