The Pulitzer-winning playwright's work—now showing at London's Tricycle Theatre—has always been politically controversial. But on stage, as in life, politics is only part of the storyby John Nathan / September 3, 2010 / Leave a comment
Kate Eifrig and Valeri Mudek in Terminating or Sonnet LXXV or ‘Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein’ or Ambivalence. Photo: Michal Daniel
Tonight, critics arrive at North London’s Tricycle Theatre to view—for the first time in Britain—five one-act plays by the American dramatist Tony Kushner, collectively called Tiny Kushner. One of the playlets in the group, Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, made the author paranoid to the point of a “kind of panic.” The group the play was about, he says, are “very vindictive people.”
He is talking about Republicans—or some of them. They were in power in 2003 when he wrote the piece in question, which features George W Bush’s wife Laura and three dead Iraqi children. In the play, Laura reads a passage from The Brothers Karamazov to the children, killed as a result of American bombing. It is not light on symbolism. But it is intended to implicate all of us, not just the Bush family.
“[The Nation newspaper] put it on the cover,” says Kushner, “with a title they made up—Laura Bush and Evil—which I was very upset about. I thought it would skew the reading of it. I did have this moment of panic—of ‘what if they read this and decided to go after me?’” This was paranoia, he conceded. “But you get scared. I remember I took my laptop somewhere, and I took all my journals to my house in the country. I sort of moved things around thinking ‘they could steal stuff’.”
It should be said that Kushner doesn’t scare easily. When Stephen Spielberg commissioned him to write the screenplay for the movie Munich (2005), about Israel’s retaliation for the massacre of its Olympic athletes, Kushner warned Spielberg that it might cause trouble. It did: right-wing Jews said he was morally equating the retaliation with the massacre that prompted it. Kushner, who is Jewish himself, and gay (he is married to the journalist Mark Harris), has been an intimidatingly articulate critic of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and formerly Bush’s policy towards Israel. Unsurprisingly, the American right hates him, and he hates them.
Yet he is also a hugely talented, internationally acclaimed writer, perhaps best known for Angels in America, the seven-hour epic that won him a Pulitzer and two best play Tonys (one for each part), plus an Emmy for the HBO version staring Al Pacino. A rambling, dazzling…