Monday, May 9, 2011

Jill Krementz covers Tony Kushner

Eulogies for the theater are what critics write when they're feeling cranky and bored. Sometimes I think the bad years happen when playwrights, actors and directors are as appalled as everyone else by the world and the misbehavior of our leaders and dumbstruck, exasperated, flabbergasted. Speechlessness is unavoidable. But we recover, and rage is a good engine for
the stage.
The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to
Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
May 5th-June 12th, 2011

Signature Theatre Company's Tony Kushner season continues with his newest play, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, co-produced with The Public Theater and in association with the Guthrie in Minneapolis.

The almost four-hour play written by Tony Kushner and directed by Michael Greif is an exploration of revolution, radicalism, marriage, sex, prostitution, politics, real estate, unions of all kinds and debts both repaid and unpayable.

It is the summer of 2007 and Gus Marcantonio (Michael Christofer), a longtime widower and retired longshoreman, invites his sister Clio (Brenda Wehle) and his three children (who in turn bring along spouses, ex-spouses, lovers and more) to a most unusual family reunion in their Brooklyn brownstone.

With humor and passion, the play examines the importance of connectedness and belonging — to a family, a community, a group, an ideology, a marriage — and what happens when those connections are lost.

Tony Kushner has recently been in the news, and on the front page of The New York Times, because a single trustee of CUNY was able to persuade the University not to ratify a request by John Jay College to bestow an honorary degree on Mr. Kushner at the upcoming graduation. We can only hope that they will come to their senses and reverse their silly mistake. Kushner has demanded an apology for what he says "amounts to slander on their part."
Hebrew-and Yiddish-illiterate, I barely know how to pray; riddled with ambivalence, child of Marx, Freud, Mahler, Benjamin, Kafka, Goldman, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Aansky, Schoenberg, mongrel product of Judaism's (and of Jewish) exteriority, of its ghetto-hungry curiosity, of its assimilationist genius, I now approach Judaism as Jews once approached the splendid strangeness of the “Goyische Welt,” deeply confused, not complacent. And this I think is profoundly Jewish.
The notion that anybody has a continued interest in alternative economic formations — alternatives to capitalism — is shocking and appalling to people. I've seen real anger in audiences of my plays, a very cold reception based on the absolute certainty, as people have been promised over and over by the media, that we don't have to think about these issues at all anymore. The idea that someone is still writing plays about them is hopeless. I don't think that anybody's going to kill me because I say I'm a socialist, but I think people find it risible.”
Kushner on the set of his adaptation of A Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds, which ran at the Public Theater. I photographed him here for my book, The Jewish Writer, because it seemed an appropriate setting. He told me "the candle shows us that a flame can always be rekindled. "Such a soul," he said, "is called the dybbuk."

Tony Kushner's play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes earned him the Pulitzer Prize, among many other awards. His other acclaimed plays include Slavs!, Homebody/Kabul, and Caroline, or Change.

He has collaborated with children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak on several books.

Photographed by Jill Krementz on November 30, 1997.
I arrived at the Public Theater early for the opening night. Standing outside were supporters of Tony Kushner in response to CUNY's recent board decision as to whether or not the playwright should receive an honorary degree at this year's graduation. A trustee of the university felt that Mr. Kushner had made disparaging remarks about the state of Israel, particularly in regard to its policy
toward Palestinians.
Tony Kushner arrives at The Public Theater and started smiling from ear to ear when he saw the placards in front of the theater. Tony Kushner with his husband, Mark Harris. Married in May of 2003, they were the first gay couple to be featured in The New York Times Vows column.
With his hand over his heart, Tony told his supporters how deeply touched he was and invited each of them to see the play as his guests.
John Heilpern, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair (where he writes the "Out To Lunch" feature) and former drama critic for The New York Observer. Paul Resika is a well-known New York artist who chaired the Parsons School of Design MFA program from 1978-1990. A former student of Hans Hofmann, he is known for his paintings of landscapes and piers.
Charles Cohen (left) with Mandy and Cliff Einstein. Mr. Cohen, who is in real estate, is on the board of the Public Theater. The Einsteins are L.A. based art collectors.
Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of The
Public Theater.
Sonya LeBrun, iHo's Assistant stage manager.
Actors David Margulies and Lois Smith, who are both in the cast of Kushner's The Illusion, now in rehearsal. The play will open on June 5th and concludes Signature's season celebrating the playwright. It is described as "Tony Kushner's most joyfully theatrical play, a wildly entertaining tale of passion and regret, of love, disillusionment and magic, freely adapted from Pierre Corneille's L'Illusion Comique." Its synopsis: A magician gives an old man three visions of his long-lost son.
Lois Smith is a veteran of the Signature Theater Company where she appeared in many of Horton Foote's plays. That is a shoe lace decorating the hat of
Mr. Margulies.
Tony Kushner welcoming Robin Wagner, the famous set designer (Mr. Wagner did the set for Chorus Line, among others) and Sydney Weinberg, an architectural historian.
Andrew Burmeister, who is on the staff of The New York City of Department of Cultural Affairs. "We provide capital funding for the
Signature Theater."
Frank DiLella, theater critic for NY1's On Stage as well as a contributor to Playbill.
Barry Rosenstein and his 8-year-old son Ari. They were waiting for a car to take Ari home at the first intermission, which was a good idea. Actors Nick Westrate and Sean Dugan. Mr. Westrate workshopped iHo, and Mr. Dugan is in rehearsal with The Illusion.
A flawless cast takes a curtain call.
An extra bow from Michael Cristofer who plays the role of Gus Marcantonio, the father.

In addition to being a brilliant actor, Mr. Cristofer won a Pulitzer prize for writing a play,
The Shadow Box.
Playbill's Harry Haun. Erika Mallin, Executive Director of Signature
Theater Company.
Sean Yule who handles Knopf's subsidiary rights.
The after-party was held at The Bowery Hotel, a short walk from The Public.

Manning the door: Johnny Saczko, a 29-year-old artist/musician from
Tucson, Arizona.
Gary Clark (Rudin Management) and his husband, John Stankewitz, Senior Account Executive at Hachette Filipacchi Media.
Patrick Pacheco is a critic for NY1's Theater Talk. He has recently rewritten the book for Pal Joey which is in production at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Mr. Pacheco wrote the script for Awaking Sleeping Beauty, a 2009 documentary about the conflict-ridden animation department of the
Disney company.
Paul Guger , who is with VisitBritian. Mr. Guger recently worked with 9,000 press people covering the Royal Wedding and is working on the upcoming Olympics. Michael Friedman and Stephen Spinella. Mr. Friedman wrote the music for iHo. Mr. Spinella plays Pill, Gus's homosexual son.
Patrick Pacheco and Sean Yule. Joyce Ketay, Tony Kushner's agent since Angels in America.
Linda Emond plays Gus's daughter. Brenda Wehle (who is in the play) and her friend, actor Tom Hulce. Ms Wehle and Mr. Hulce were in Cider House Rules together.
Sean Yule leaving the party. Oskar Eustis also exiting The Bowery after a long, but wonderful, evening.
Kushner's "means of production" — perfect fountain pens and lots of notebooks. He has been working for some time on an Abraham Lincoln screenplay for Steven Spielberg but the fate of this project
is uncertain.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz
all rights reserved.