'Angels in America' and 8 Other Classic Plays That Were Once Controversial

When Angels in America—Tony Kushner's play about AIDS and the gay experience in the U.S.—was first staged nearly 20 years ago, it inspired a wave of protests across the country. Attempts to put on Angels in Florida, Texas, Michigan, and—most dramatically—North Carolina sparked outrage because of the play's frank depiction of a host of hot-button issues: homosexuality, drug use, racism, religious intolerance, and more.

Last week, New York City hosted its first Angels revival since the play debuted there in 1993, and the new production highlights how much has changed in the past two decades. As the New York Times points out in an article about the revival, AIDS is now "chronic, not fatal" and television's Modern Family has a gay couple with an adopted baby as two of its main characters. And as society's attitude toward gay people has evolved, so has its view of Angels in America. The play is now studied in college courses and is as much of the American dramatic canon as Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Angels in America isn't the first play to inspire criticism at first only to be canonized later. Here, a look at controversial plays that are now read in literature classes and performed across the country without incident.

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn and Kevin Fallon

Eleanor Barkhorn is editor of The Atlantic's Entertainment channel. Kevin Fallon writes for and produces the channel.

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