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12 May 2011, 2:00 pm 2 Comments

Event Review: Tony Kushner at the Public Theater

Event Details: Tony Kushner at the Public Theater - :

Submission by Andrew Steinkuehler, TNG NY’s new contributor. Andrew Steinkuehler is an aspiring novelist, freelancer, and gay dude living off the 6 train in the perennially unfashionable Spanish Harlem. He needs to quit smoking.

The Public Theater is one of those New York institutions that makes a Midwestern emigre like me curse his birthright. Listening to the consummately eloquent Cynthia Nixon (who knew?) recount her experiences growing up in that theater, seeing star-studded productions of Hamlet, Two Gentleman of Verona, and Spring Awakening before she was old enough to drive filled me a wistful sense of envy. I was there to listen to Tony Kushner and Ms. Nixon, there to introduce the now canonical playwright as part of the long-running Public Forum series —”an exciting new series of lectures, debates and conversations that showcase leading voices in the arts, politics and the media,” according to the Public’s PR materials. Seated just a few rows from the stage, I scribbled in my notebook that if I had come late to the genteel world of the culture industry, late was, as they say, certainly better than never.

Kushner walked onto the stage, the set of his latest play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, or iHo, a bit verklempt from Nixon’s introduction and joined by the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis, a square-jawed man emanating the  particular gravitas native to those who’ve devoted their lives to the capital ‘T’ Theater. Long-time colleagues of a sort, the two talked for an hour and a half of many things, but primarily about the aforementioned iHo.

iHo is about Gus, a former labor leader confronting, in his twilight years, the damage wrought by 30 years of neo-liberalism set into motion by the presidency of Hollywood wash-out turned right-wing shill Ronald Reagan. In the play’s inciting incident, Gus gathers his grown-up children (representing almost every color in the LGBT rainbow) to announce that he intends to commits suicide and that he’d like their blessing on the matter. Three and a half hours of rarefied dialogue later, the play concludes on the same note of uncertainty and disquiet with which it began. The reviews have been mixed.

But the playwright whose groundbreaking epic Angels in America I first watched in its incarnation as an HBO miniseries is undoubtedly brilliant. He responded to Eustis’ affable interrogation with brio and mile-a-minute chatter, full of hilarious asides and epic digressions including memorable remarks on Shakespeare (“Comparing another playwright to Shakespeare is just wrong.”), Abraham Lincoln (about whom Kushner is writing a screenplay), and one of his early mentors. (“He once told me, ‘Actors make both the good and bad mediocre and make the mediocre itself.’”)Kushner was, above all, refreshing.

With his open personality, his earnestness, I began to see him as an emissary from another New York, an alternative to the rootless (and oftentimes ruthless) cosmopolitan city that I know, the New York that brooks no continuity within its skyscraping, anonymous confines. Kushner represents the New York of the hack, of the neighborhood, of the people on the ground. The New York that is there, somewhere, behind the mystifying facades of thousands of stories of steel and glass and brick the vertical equivalent of a Los Angeles traffic jam. The anti-condo, the anti-lifestyle magazine, the anti-billboard. The New York of real live children.

When the lights went up and the audience began to file out, I was reminded of the first time I read about Harvey Milk. It was the first time I had ever thought of the words ‘gay American’ as anything other than an oxymoron. Tony Kushner, the playwright, the activist, the thinker, is living proof that America’s greatest sons and daughters often begin as its unwanted children. One thinks of Whitman, for instance, or in a different case, and without being too grand, of Martin Luther King. I looked at Kushner as he walked off the stage and realized that we, the queers, though we have only lately arrived in the popular consciousness, have been here all along. And hell, if nothing else, we, like the Public Theater, are a New York institution.


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  • newsmongering 05/14 « whackanarwhal said:

    [...] me to The New Gay. I’m digging it. No, seriously, there’s some cool stuff here, from the writeup of Tony Kushner at the Public Theater to this editorial on why gay men need to be feminists. Adding it to the [...]

  • bombasse sodomisatrice said:

    Un poste plein de vérité