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Kushner, Tony 1956-

KUSHNER, Tony 1956-

Personal

Born July 16, 1956, in New York, NY. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1978; New York University, M.F.A., 1984.

Addresses

Office Walter Kerr Theatre, 225 West 48th St., New York, NY 10036. Agent Joyce Ketay Agency, 1501 Broadway, Ste. 1908, New York, NY 10036.

Career

United Nations Plaza Hotel, New York, NY, switchboard operator, 1979-85; St. Louis Repertory Theatre, St. Louis, MO, assistant director, 1985-86; New York Theatre Workshop, New York, artistic director, 1987-88; Theatre Communication Group, New York, director of literary services, 1990-91; Juilliard School of Drama, New York, playwright-in-residence, 1990-92. Guest artist at New York University Graduate Theatre Program, Yale University, and Princeton University, beginning 1989.

Member

AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

Awards, Honors

Directing fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1985, 1987, 1993; Princess Grace Award, 1986; playwriting fellowship, New York State Council for the Arts, 1987; John Whiting Award, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1990; Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays Awards, 1990, 1992; Kesserling Award, National Arts Club, 1992; Will Glickman playwriting prize, 1992; London Evening Standard Award, 1992; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award for best play, and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, all 1993, all for Millennium Approaches, Part One of Angels in America; American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, 1994; Tony Award for best play, 1994, for Perestroika, Part Two of Angels in America; Lambda Literary Award, Drama, 1994, for Angels in America; Lambda Literary Award, Lesbian and Gay Drama, 1996, for Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer; Village Voice Off-Broadway ("Obie") Award, 2002, for Homebody/Kabul.

Writings

PLAYS

Yes, Yes, No, No (juvenile; produced in St. Louis, MO, 1985), published in Plays in Process, 1987.

Stella (adapted from the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), produced in New York, NY, 1987.

Hydriotaphia, produced in New York, NY, 1987.

The Illusion (adapted from Pierre Corneille's play L'illusion comique; produced in New York, NY, 1988, revised version produced in Hartford, CT, 1990), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

A Bright Room Called Day (produced in San Francisco, CA, 1987), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

(With Ariel Dorfman) Widows (adapted from a book by Ariel Dorfman), produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1991.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One: Millennium Approaches (produced in San Francisco, 1991), Hern, 1992, Part Two: Perestroika (produced in New York, NY, 1992), both parts published in one volume, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

A Dybbuk; or, Between Two Worlds (adapted from Joachim Neugroschel's translation of the original play by S. Ansky; produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 1997), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1997.

The Good Person of Szechuan (adapted from the original play by Bertolt Brecht), Arcade, 1997.

(With Eric Bogosian and others) Love's Fire: Seven New Plays Inspired by Seven Shakespearean Sonnets, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Henry Box Brown; or, The Mirror of Slavery, performed at Royal National Theatre, London, England, 1998.

Homebody/Kabul, (produced in New York, NY, 2001), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2002, revised version, 2004.

Caroline; or, Change (musical; produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 2002), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author of other plays and dramatic adaptations.

OTHER

A Meditation from Angels in America, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1994.

Tony Kushner in Conversation, edited by Robert Vorlicky, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Death and Taxes: Hydriotaphia, and Other Plays, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2000.

(Reteller) Brundibar (based on the opera by Han Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister), illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Michael di Capua/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.

(Author of text) The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Alisa Solomon, and author of introduction) Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor with Nadia Valman) Philosemitism, Antisemitism, and "The Jew": Perspectives from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, Ashgate Publishing (Burlington, VT), 2004.

Adaptations

Angels in America was broadcast on HBO, 2004.

Sidelights

Tony Kushner is a playwright who is well-known for creating provocative dramas that focus on AIDS, politics, and America's gay subculture. His seven-hour drama Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, impressed Broadway audiences when it was produced in the early 1990s, and a touring production of the play continued to win Kushner critical praise on stages worldwide. The play received both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and two Antoinette Perry ("Tony") awards for best play in 1993 and 1994, and was produced for television in 2003. Other plays by Kushner explore political topics; Homebody/Kabul, for example, focuses on the unrest in Afghanistan. In addition to his ongoing work as a playwright, Kushenr has also authored a book for children titled Brundibar, which features illustrations by noted illustrator Maurice Sendak.

Kushner was born in New York City in 1956, but grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His parents, both classical musicians, encouraged Kushner and his siblings to explore literature and the arts; the children were given a dollar whenever they had memorized a poem to recite. His mother was also an actress, and her work inspired Kushner to go into a career in theatre.

Kushner began to realize that he was different from most other children at an early age. "I have fairly clear memories of being gay since I was six," the playwright told Richard Stayton in the Los Angeles Times. "I knew that I felt slightly different than most of the boys I was growing up with. By the time I was eleven there was no doubt. But I was completely in the closet." He continued to keep his sexuality a secret throughout his undergraduate years at Columbia University, finally coming to terms with his sexual orientation and informing friends and family in his mid-twenties. Despite this life-altering admission, Kushner's early plays did not focus on gay themes. A Bright Room Called Day concerns a group of liberal-minded acquaintances in the Weimar Republic of Germany, just before the establishment of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. The disintegration of their relationships is juxtaposed with a contemporary story that allows Kushner to criticize the policies of the Ronald Reagan administration, which was in power when A Bright Room Called Day was produced.

Angels in America was designed to be performed by eight actors, each of whom perform several roles. In Millennium Approaches, the story focuses on two couples: gay men Louis and Prior, who are dealing with Prior's AIDS, and Harper and Joe, who are married although Joe, is actually gay. Another significant character is lawyer Roy Cohn, a character based on the attorney who helped Senator Joseph McCarthy persecute suspected communists during the 1950s. Millennium Approaches takes its name from the sense of apocalypse the character Prior feels while dealing with his deadly disease. At the end, an angel descends dramatically to visit him, and he is declared a prophet, temporarily, at least, saved from death by AIDS.

The companion play, Perestroika, gets its title from the Russian word ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev used for his proposals for "restructuring" economic and social policies. In the second part of Angels in America, the glorious being that visited Prior at the end of the first part turns out to represent stasis or death, and Prior decides to reject it. In 1995 Kushner wrote and produced a "coda" to Angels in America, Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, which Christopher Hawthorne of Salon.com called "a compact, quirky exploration of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ruin, both philosophical and environmental, left in its wake."

While Kushner's work for the stage is interwoven with humor, the author's themes are serious ones: politics, racism, prejudice, and the excessive use of power. He sets those themes aside in writing his book for children, however. In Brundibar he retells the story of the 1938 opera by Czech composer Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister, which finds two children attempting to get fresh milk for their sick mother. Going to town, they hope to use their singing talent to earn the money needed to buy the milk, but a local organ grinder, unwilling to be upstaged, decides to have some fun at their expense. Each time they sing, the bully raises a loud, discordant bellow, but the children finally gain the help of three animals and a group of young friends to end his efforts. The story of the opera itself has a far-less-happy ending; it was performed by a children's choir at Terezin, a World War II concentration camp; as Sally Lodge noted in Publishers Weekly, "most of the young performers were subsequently deported to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers." Compozer Krasa met the same fate in 1944. The collaboration between Kushner and Sendak came about when Kushner adapted the opera for a Chicago production, and Sendak, inspired by Kushner's rewrite, approached the playwright about a further adaptation, this time as a children's book.

In Brundibar brother and sister Pepicek and Aninku are in need of milk, and Brundibar, while portrayed as a blustering villain vaguely resembling Adolf Hitler, ultimately meets his match when the siblings are joined by hundreds of children who defend their right to sing. While Sendak's use of dialogue balloons and gentle, folklike images of animals and rural landscape uplift the story from its tragic history, characters wearing the yellow Star of Davida symbol required by the Nazis to identify Jewsalso appear in the illustrator's pencil and brush artwork. In Booklist Ilene Cooper cautioned that because of the complexity of the storyat one point Pepicek and Aninku are transformed into talking bearBrundibar "is not for casual reading," although School Library Journal reviewer Steven Engelfried maintained that the illustrations would carry the plot for younger readers. Kushner's "playful language, with occasional rhyme and alliteration," Engelfried wrote, "is a perfect match for Sendak's spirited young heroes," resulting in "an ambitious book that succeeds both as a simple children's story and as a compelling statement against tyranny." "Sendak and Kushner complement each other perfectly as they merge merriment with tragedy and political commentary," concluded a Kirkus Reviews contributor, praising Brundibar as "a stunning piece of art."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

American Writers, Supplement IX, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001, pp. 131-149.

Contemporary Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 81, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 228: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Gale (Detroit, MI), pp. 144-160.

Drama Criticism, Volume 10, Gale (Detroit, MI), pp. 212-283.

Drama for Students, Volume 5, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 1-33.

Geis, Deborah R., and Steven F. Kruger, Approaching the Millennium: Essays on "Angels in America," University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Savran, David, Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1996.

Vorlicky, Robert, editor, Tony Kushner in Conversation, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

PERIODICALS

Advocate, November 17, 1992; December 14, 1993; December 28, 1993; February 5, 2002, Don Shewey, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 49.

America, May 29, 1993; March 5, 1994, p. 12.

American Theatre, April, 1999, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 45; September, 2000, Irene Oppenheim, "Shedding More Light on Bright Room, " p. 75; March, 2002, James Reston, Jr., review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 28.

Back Stage, January 28, 1994, Irene Backalenick, review of The Illusion, p. 60; January 11, 2002, David A. Rosenberg, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 43.

Back Stage West, September 21, 2001, John Angell Grant, review of The Illusion, p. 24.

Booklist, September 1, 1993; April 15, 1994; January, 1, 1995, review of A Bright Room Called Day, p. 795; April 1, 1995, p. 1372; July, 1998, Ray Olson, review of A Dybbuk pp. 1851-1874; November 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Brundibar, p. 602.

Chicago, September, 1994, p. 37.

Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1993.

Choice, September, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 198.

Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 1994, review of Millennium Approaches, p. A63.

Commentary, January, 1995, p. 51.

Commonweal, February 22, 1991, p. 132; July 16, 1993.

Daily Variety, August 27, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 12.

Economist, February 22, 1992; December 4, 1993.

Entertainment Weekly, November 26, 1993.

Horn Book, January-February, 2004, Betsy Hearne, review of Brundibar, p. 69, and Roger Sutton, review of The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, p. 108.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2003, review of Brundibar, p. 1312.

Library Journal, July, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 94; January, 1998, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 101; September 15, 1999, review of Refugees in an Age of Genocide, p. 99; January, 2004, David A. Berona, review of The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, p. 103.

Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1990, pp. 45-46, 48; May 6, 1993, pp. F1, F7; December 24, 1995, review of Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 24, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 12.

Nation, March 18, 1991; February 22, 1993; July 4, 1994; February 6, 1995, p. 177.

National Review, June 7, 1993; January 24, 1994, p. 71.

New Leader, June 14, 1993; December 13, 1993.

New Republic, May 24, 1993; June 14, 1993; December 27, 1993, p. 25; January 30, 1995, p. 30; March 18, 2002, Robert Brustein, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 27.

Newsweek, May 10, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 83; June 27, 1994, p. 46; December 17, 2001, Marc Peyser, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 68.

Newsweek International, December 1, 2003, Vibhuti Patel, "Beating up the Bully" p. 65.

New York, January 21, 1991; April 12, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 130; April 4, 1994, p. 74; January 31, 1994, p. 69; December 1, 1997, p. 110.

New Yorker, November 23, 1992, pp. 126-130; May 31, 1993; June 21, 1993; December 13, 1993, p. 129; January 9, 1995, p. 85.

New York Times, January 18, 1990; January 8, 1991, p. C11, C14; March 5, 1992, C1, C21; September 13, 1992; April 14, 1993, p. B6; May 5, 1993; June 7, 1993; November 21, 1993; December 4, 1994; November 17, 1997, p. B2, B5; November 23, 1997, p. AR20; March 1, 1998.

New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1993, pp. 29-30, 48, 56.

Publishers Weekly, June 26, 1995, review of Slavs!, p. 105.

School Library Journal, December, 2003, Steven Engelfried, review of Brundibar, p. 118; April, 2004, Sue Burgess, review of The Art of Maurice Sendak, p. 187.

Spectator, June 1, 2002, Toby Young, review of Homebody/ Kabul, p. 48.

Time, November 23, 1992; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993; October 27, 2003, Sally Lodge, "Brundibar: A Collaboration with Remarkable Roots," p. 26.

Variety, January 17, 1990; January 14, 1991; July 29, 1991; August 12, 1991; November 16, 1992; May 10, 1993; December 6, 1993; January 24, 1994; May 9, 1994; August 8, 1994; October 17, 1994; October 31, 1994; December 19, 1994, p. 86; February 27, 1995, p. 83; March 6, 1995, p. 71; November 18, 1997; September 2, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 33.

Village Voice December 7, 1993; April 18, 1995.

Washington Post, November 7, 1992, p. G1; May 5, 1993, p. B1.

World Literature Today, winter, 1995, review of Angels in America, p. 144; summer, 1996, review of Slavs!, p. 695.

ONLINE

Metro Active Stage Online, http://www.metroactive.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Earth Angel: Tony Kushner Speaks on Art and Politics."

Playbill Online, http://www.playbill.com/ (October 23, 2003), "Kushner's Angels in America Film Debuts in Two Parts on HBO, December 7 and 14."

Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (September, 1997), Christopher Hawthorne, review of Slavs!

Steven Barclay Agency Web site, http://www.barclayagency.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Tony Kushner."*

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Kushner, Tony

Tony Kushner (kŏŏsh´nər), 1956–, American playwright, b. New York City. Educated at Columbia and New York Univ., he was a little-known off-Broadway playwright with several interesting works, e.g., Yes, Yes, No, No (1985) and A Bright Room Called Day (1987), to his credit when his Angels in America (1991–92) burst on the theatrical scene. This two-part, seven-hour, Pulitzer Prize– and Tony-winning drama of life in the age of AIDS mingles the political, personal, and universal in its treatment of such apparently disparate elements as gay and straight relationships, the Mormon faith, Roy Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg (see Rosenberg Case), disease, love, and death. The play was adapted into an Emmy-winning television drama (2002), directed by Mike Nichols. Hailed as a major talent, Kushner has been praised for his intelligence, wit, and humanity. Since Angels he has written Slavs! (1994), an ironic political fantasia; Homebody/Kabul (2001), a linguistically rich drama centered about an imaginary and a real Afghanistan; Caroline, or Change (2004), a semiautobiographical musical that focuses on issues of race and class, and The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (2011), a family drama that explores, among other things, reactions to the collapse of faith in outdated belief systems and morality codes.

Inspired by a 1942 Czech opera performed by children at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, Kushner supplied the text for the children's book Brundibar and the libretto for the opera (both: 2003) based on it; Maurice Sendak illustrated the book and designed the opera production. The two also collaborated on a version of Martinů's 1937 opera Comedy on the Bridge. Kushner has also made contemporary translations of two plays by Bertolt Brecht, Good Person of Setzuan (1994) and Mother Courage and Her Children (2006).

See R. Vorlicky, ed., Tony Kushner in Conversation (1998); studies by P. Brask, ed. (1995), D. R. Geis and S. F. Kruger, ed. (1997), J. Fisher (2001), and H. Bloom, ed. (2005).

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Kushner, Tony

KUSHNER, TONY

KUSHNER, TONY (1956– ), U.S. playwright. Born in New York City, Kushner grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where his father inherited the family lumber business. He attended Columbia University, where he earned a degree in medieval studies, and New York University, where he completed a master of fine arts degree in 1984. His first plays, starting with The Age of Assassins (1982), Yes, Yes, No, No (1985), and A Bright Room Called Day (1987), about Hitler's rise and contemporary America, attracted little notice. But in 1991 and 1992, his Angels in America, a two-part, seven-hour drama about life in the age of aids, burst upon the theatrical scene and became one of the most widely admired works of the late 20th century. The play mingles the political, personal, and universal in its treatment of such apparently disparate elements as homosexual and traditional relationships, Mormonism, Roy M. Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg, disease, love, and death. The play follows the lives of two couples and their friends, relatives, and visionary visitors as they struggle to come to terms with the realities of the late 20th century. One character, Prior Walter, has aids. Unable to cope, his lover, Louis, leaves him and begins an affair with Joe, a Mormon lawyer who is about to leave his wife. Abandoned and dying, Prior begins to have visions of an angel. At the same time, Joe is drawn into the orbit of Cohn, an unscrupulous lawyer and political operator who is himself dying of aids. Kushner was hailed as a major talent, intelligent, witty, and humane. Angels in America won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, the Tony award for best play, best actor, and best direction, among other honors. A television miniseries version, directed by Mike *Nichols in 2003 and starring Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson, swept the national television awards, the Emmys, winning 11 prizes. In 1998 London's National Theater selected Angels in America as one of the 10 best plays of the 20th century.

Overall, Kushner intends his plays to be part of a greater political movement. His work is concerned with moral responsibility during politically repressive times, and he brought the lofty into the approachable by creating everyday characters who collide both comically and tragically on stage.

Kushner's other works include Slavs! (1995) and Home-body/Kabul, a play about Afghanistan that opened shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He also wrote adaptations of Corneille's The Illusion, S.Y. Ansky's The Dybbuk, and Brecht's The Person of Sezuan. Caroline or Change, a musical he wrote with the composer Jeanine Tesori, had its debut in 2004. He also wrote an original screenplay for a 2005 film directed by Steven *Spielberg that chronicles the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which 11 members of the Israeli team were murdered, and the plan by the secret Mossad squad to track down and kill the assassins.

His books include Brundibar (2003), a book for children with illustrations by Maurice *Sendak, and Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (2003), co-edited with Alisa Solomon. Among his honors were an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and a Cultural Achievement Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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Kushner, Tony

KUSHNER, TONY

KUSHNER, TONY (1960– ), British historian. Tony Kushner, Marcus Sieff Professor of Jewish history at Southampton University, wrote widely on antisemitism and the immigrant experience, especially in Britain, and on the Holocaust. His very prolific writings emphasized the ambiguity of the Jewish experience and discerned, often from a left-wing perspective, more antisemitism in British society than some previous historians. Kushner linked this with British liberalism, which often could not accommodate the specific situation of the Jews and had difficulties in imagining the unprecedented evil of the Holocaust. He is the author of The Persistence of Prejudice: Antisemitism in British Society During the Second World War (1989) and The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination (1994). He was also the editor or co-editor of more than a dozen collections of original essays, such as Refugees in an Age of Genocide (1999).

[William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]

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Kushner, Tony

KUSHNER, Tony

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 16 July 1956; grew up in Louisiana. Education: Columbia University, B.A. 1978; New York University, M.F.A. in directing 1984. Career: United Nations switchboard operator, Plaza Hotel, New York, 1979-85; member, Heat & Light Co., Inc., theatre company, 1980s; assistant director, St. Louis Repertory Thea-tre, 1985-86; artistic director, New York Theatre Workshop, 1987-88; beginning 1989 guest artist, New York University Graduate Theatre Program, Yale University, and Princeton University; director of literary services, Theatre Communication Group, New York, 1990-91; playwright-in-residence, Juilliard School of Drama, New York, 1990-92. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts directing fellowship, 1985, 1987, and 1993; Princess Grace award, 1986; New York State Council for the Arts playwriting fellowship, 1987; Arts Council of Great Britain John Whiting award, 1990; Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays awards, 1990 and 1992; National Arts Club Kesserling award, Will Glickman playwriting prize, and London Evening Standard award, all in 1992; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Antoinette Perry award for best play, and New York Drama Critics Circle award for best new play, all in 1993, for Millennium Approaches, part one of Angels in America; American Academy of Arts and Letters award, 1994; Antoinette Perry award for best play, 1994, for Perestroika, part two of Angels in America; Lambda Lesbian and Gay Drama award, 1996, for Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer.Agent: Joyce Ketay, 334 West 89th Street, New York, New York 10024, U.S.A. Address: Office: Walter Kerr Theatre, 225 West 48th Street, New York, New York 10036, U.S.A.

Publication

Plays

Yes, Yes, No, No (for children; produced St. Louis, Missouri, 1985). In Three Plays for Young Audiences, 1987.

A Bright Room Called Day (produced New York, 1985). 1991.

Stella, adaptation of the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (produced New York, 1987).

The Illusion, adaptation of the play by Pierre Corneille (produced New York, 1988; revised version, produced Hartford, Connecticut, 1990). 1991.

Widows, with Ariel Dorfman, adaptation of the work by Dorfman (produced Los Angeles, 1991).

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One: Millennium Approaches (produced San Francisco, 1991). 1993.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part Two: Perestroika (produced New York, 1992). 1994.

Slavs! (Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness). 1995.

A Dybbuk, or between Two Worlds, adaptation of Joachim Neugroschel's translation of the play by S. Ansky (produced New York, 1997). 1997.

The Good Person of Szechuan, adaptation of the play by Bertolt Brecht. 1997.

Henry Box Brown, or the Mirror of Slavery (produced London, 1998).

Hydriotaphia (produced New York, 1998). In Death & Taxes: Hydriotaphia, and Other Plays, 2000.

Death & Taxes: Hydriotaphia, and Other Plays. 2000.

Homebody/Kabul (produced New York, 2001).

Other

A Meditation from Angels in America. 1994.

Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer. 1995.

Tony Kushner in Conversation, edited by Robert Vorlicky. 1997.

*

Critical Studies:

Essays on Kushner's Angels, edited by Per K. Brask, 1995; "'The Angels of Fructification': Tennessee Williams, Tony Kushner, and Images of Homosexuality on the American Stage," in Mississippi Quarterly, 49(1), Winter 1995-96, pp. 13-32, and The Theater of Tony Kushner: Living Past Hope, 2001, both by James Fisher; "Angels in America: Tony Kushner's Theses on the Philosophy of History" by Charles McNulty, in Modern Drama, 39, Spring 1996, pp. 84-96; Approaching the Millennium: Essays on Angels in America by Deborah R. Geis and Steven F. Kruger, 1997; "Angels, Monsters, and Jews: Intersections of Queer and Jewish Identity in Kushner's Angels in America " by Jonathan Freedman, in PMLA, 113, January 1998, pp. 90-102.

* * *

Tony Kushner was born in 1956 in New York City and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where his father ran the family lumberyard. Both of his parents were classical musicians. He attended Columbia University as an undergraduate, studying medieval literature before attending New York University as a directing student. He was a member of the Heat & Light Co., Inc., a theater company in New York City in the 1980s.

Kushner's major plays include Stella (1985), a children's play adapted from Goethe's 1775 prose drama; The Illusion (1988), an adaptation from Pierre Corneille; and Windows (1991), an adaptation cowritten with Ariel Dorfman. Though critically unsuccessful, the 1991 New York production of A Bright Room Called Day nonetheless led to a commission from San Francisco's Eureka Theatre that developed into his acclaimed masterpiece Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1992). Winning near universal acclaim, it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, two Tony awards for best play (for Millennium Approaches, Part One, and Perestroika, Part Two), and a host of other awards. Since then, Kushner has produced Slavs! (Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness) (1994), constructed from material discarded from earlier drafts of Angels in America and which addresses the collapse of Soviet socialism. Other works are Hydriotaphia (written in 1988 and produced in 1998), which presents Sir Thomas Browne, an early historical English capitalist, on his deathbed reviewing his life, and well-received adaptations of Solomon Ansky's The Dybbuk and Bertolt Brecht 's A Good Person of Setzuan, as well as his play Homebody/Kabul (2001).

Kushner's plays are straightforwardly political. He has identified himself as a socialist, a position that at the end of the twentieth century in America marginalized him even more than his open homosexuality. For Kushner the current embrace of the capitalist ethic by American middle-class society was nothing less than a repudiation of the ideals for equality and social justice that propelled America from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal through Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. During those 30 years America appeared to be on the cusp of becoming a genuinely progressive nation. But after the ousting of Richard Nixon and the onset of economic inflation in the 1970s, the Right made deep inroads into the American political landscape, inroads that would have seemed unlikely in the more liberal 1960s. But with the Ronald Reagan/George Bush administrations, bit by bit social programs became dismantled and diluted as the Left, both Old and New, appeared to lose its voice and become complicit in the Right's victory.

The Holocaust did not exterminate Jews alone, and homosexuals and Communists were also among those condemned. As a Jew, a homosexual, and a socialist, Kushner was well positioned to analyze how the voices of each group have been silenced in other communities. His commitment to political and social activism has continued to lead him to protest the moral bankruptcy he sees as pervading American society, as well as to celebrate the moral, artistic, and intellectual achievements of each group. Though Kushner has cautioned his audience/readers not to despair and even to exult in the resistance offered by these groups, his message is perhaps best articulated by Zillah, his paranoid conscience in A Bright Room Called Day, when she advises the audience not to sleep too soundly and to listen to its nightmares.

—Steven Dedalus Burch

See the essay on A Bright Room Called Day.

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Kushner, Tony

Tony Kushner

Personal

Born July 16, 1956, in New York, NY. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1978; New York University, M.F.A., 1984.




Addresses

Office—Walter Kerr Theatre, 225 West 48th St., New York, NY 10036. Agent—Joyce Ketay Agency, 1501 Broadway, Ste. 1908, New York, NY 10036.




Career

United Nations Plaza Hotel, New York, NY, switchboard operator, 1979-85; St. Louis Repertory Theatre, St. Louis, MO, assistant director, 1985-86; New York Theatre Workshop, artistic director, 1987-88; Theatre Communication Group, New York, NY, director of literary services, 1990-91; Juilliard School of Drama, New York, NY, playwright-in-residence, 1990-92. Guest artist at New York University Graduate Theatre Program, Yale University, and Princeton University, beginning 1989.

Member

AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).




Awards, Honors

Directing fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1985, 1987, and 1993; Princess Grace Award, 1986; playwriting fellowship, New York State Council for the Arts, 1987; John Whiting Award, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1990; Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays Award, 1990 and 1992; Kesserling Award, National Arts Club, 1992; Will Glickman playwriting prize, 1992; London Evening Standard Award, 1992; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award for best play, and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, all 1993, all for Millennium Approaches; American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, 1994; Tony Award for best play, 1994, for Perestroika; Lambda Literary Award for Drama, 1994, for Angels in America; Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian and Gay Drama, 1996, for Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer; Village Voice Off-Broadway ("Obie") Award, 2002, for Homebody/Kabul; Lucille Lortel Award, and Obie Award, both 2004, both for Caroline, or Change; Humanitas Prize, and Emmy Award, both 2004, both for television mini-series Angels in America.

Writings

PLAYS

Yes, Yes, No, No (juvenile; produced in St. Louis, MO, 1985), published in Plays in Process, 1987.

Stella (adapted from the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), produced in New York, NY, 1987.

A Bright Room Called Day (produced in San Francisco, CA, 1987), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

Hydriotaphia, produced in New York, NY, 1987.

The Illusion (adapted from Pierre Corneille's play "L'Illusion comique"; produced in New York, NY, 1988, revised version produced in Hartford, CT, 1990), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

(With Ariel Dorfman) Widows (adapted from Dorfman's book), produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1991.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes: Part One: Millennium Approaches (produced in San Francisco, 1991), National Theatre/Nick Hern (London, England), 1992, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1993.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part Two: Perestroika (produced in New York, NY, 1992), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1994.

Plays by Tony Kushner (contains A Bright Room Called Day and The Illusion), Broadway Play Publishing (New York, NY), 1992, expanded edition published as Plays by Tony Kushner (contains A Bright Room Called Day, The Illusion, and Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness), 1999.

A Bright Room Called Day, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1994.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (includes both parts; produced as two-part television mini-series on Home Box Office, 2003), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

A Dybbuk; or, Between Two Worlds (adapted from Joachim Neugroschel's translation of the original play by S. Ansky; produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 1997), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1997.

The Good Person of Szechuan (adapted from the original play by Bertolt Brecht), Arcade, 1997.

(With Eric Bogosian and others) Love's Fire: Seven New Plays Inspired by Seven Shakespearean Sonnets, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Henry Box Brown; or, The Mirror of Slavery, produced at Royal National Theatre, London, 1998.

A Dybbuk; and, The Dybbuk Melody and Other Themes and Variations (adapted from Solomon Ansky 's play), translation by Joachim Neugroschel, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1998.

Homebody/Kabul (produced in New York, NY, 2001), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2002.

Caroline, or Change (musical), first produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 2002; produced on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theater, 2004.

Death and Taxes: Hydriotaphia and Other Plays (contains Hydriotaphia; or, The Death of Dr. Browne, Reverse Transcription, Terminating; or, Sonnet LXXV, or, Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or, Ambivalence, East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis, and David Schine in Hell), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2000.

Brundibar, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Michael di Capua/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.

Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, produced in New York, NY, at the American Airlines Theater, 2004.



OTHER

Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, A Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

Tony Kushner in Conversation, edited by Robert Vorlicky, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

(Editor with Alisa Solomon) Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Save Your Democratic Citizen Soul!: Rants, Screeds, and Other Public Utterances for Midnight in the Republic, New Press (New York, NY), 2005.


Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times, Times Literary Supplement, Theater, Civilization, Kenyon Review, Premiere, American Theatre, and Nation.




Sidelights

Playwright Tony Kushner took the theater world by storm in the early 1990s with his epic drama, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. A seven-hour play divided into the two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, Angels in America explores in uncompromising terms what it was like to be gay and affected by AIDS (acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome) during the 1980s and 1990s. Despite its grim subject matter, the play has proved quite popular with mainstream audiences from Broadway to Los Angeles and London. It has also won great acclaim from drama critics, garnering both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and two Antoinette Perry, "Tony," awards for best play in 1993 and 1994. Kushner, according to Robert Brustein in the New Republic, is "one of the very few dramatists now writing whose works are contributions to literature as well as to theater."



A Louisiana Childhood

Kushner was born in New York City in 1956, but his parents, who were classical musicians, moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, shortly after his birth. There, in what Kushner later called a "lush, hot, racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemitic backwater," he spent his formidable years, as he recalled in an interview published in Vogue magazine. "I remember being unhappy a lot," Kushner added. "A good childhood for a playwright. I've known I was different since I was five, and that I was gay since I was nine or ten and dreamed about cross-dressing. I wanted to be Mary Poppins, and I had terrible dreams of being found out and beaten up." The playwright told Richard Stayton in the Los Angeles Times: "I knew that I felt slightly different than most of the boys I was growing up with. By the time I was eleven there was no doubt. But I was completely in the closet."

Despite these dark corners of his childhood, Kushner enjoyed a relatively supportive relationship with his mother and father. His parents encouraged Kushner and his siblings to explore literature and the arts; the children were given a dollar whenever they had memorized a poem to recite. His mother was also an actress, and while in grade school, Tony watched his mother play Linda Loman in the Lake Charles Little Theater's production of Death of a Salesman. Kushner confided to Susan Cheever in the New York Times that "that's the major reason I went into the theater. I saw some of her performances when I was four or five years old and they were so powerful. I had vivid dreams afterwards."


Meanwhile, Bill Kushner nurtured his son's literary awareness. "The reason I'm a writer is because of my father, who ran the family lumber business and was a music teacher and conductor," Kushner explained in his interview with Vogue. "He used to read poems to us—a lot of Keats and Robert Burns—and encouraged us to memorize them." However, when issues of Tony's uncertain masculinity arose, Bill Kushner was unyielding. It pained him, as Arthur Lubow of the New Yorker later wrote, "that his son was a 'sissy,' teased by other little boys. He made a point of taking him to play ball and to exercise. When Tony reached puberty, he lectured him on the role of sexual reproduction in the natural order. . . . His father counseled him not to surrender to homosexuality."


As a teenager Kushner took his father's advice to heart. He was a precocious, political-minded high school student, a member of the debate team, and sometimes civil-rights protester, but he kept his sexuality tightly closeted. "There was probably an unconscious strategy to be known as the school radical so I wouldn't be known as the school sissy," Kushner admitted in Vogue. "I also tried to have sex with various girlfriends, as part of my program for becoming heterosexual."



Comes Out of the Closet

Kushner was still searching for his sexual identity when he enrolled in the program in medieval studies at Columbia University, and as part of his ongoing plan to "become" a heterosexual, he sought help from a "straight" analyst. When that failed to change his perspective, he accepted his sexual orientation and began working with a gay therapist. Finally, from a pay phone in New York City's East Village, the twenty-four year old called his parents and announced, "I think you know this, but you've denied it for years: I'm gay. I can't hide anymore, and I'm not going to do that for you. It's an either/or proposition. I cannot maintain a closeted identity. If you love me, you have to love all of me, including the part of me that I consider to be the most important part, which is the way that I choose to give and receive love. And if you can't accept that, we won't have anything to say to one another."


Kushner eased himself slowly into the life of a gay man, in part because he felt—and for years continued to feel—uneasy in the gay community. "I feel outside just by temperament and nerdishness," he told New Yorker contributor John Lahr. "I tend to be sort of quiet and shy and awkward in social situations. I didn't have sex with a man until I was

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

twenty-one, and wasn't really out until I was twenty-four or twenty-five. I don't dance. There are issues of weight[—Kushner has been called a 'nervous' eater—]and attractiveness. And my closest relationship is with a heterosexual woman."

Kushner's career as a playwright evolved with that platonic relationship; his dearest friend, the heterosexual woman, is Kimberly Flynn. A New Orleans native, Flynn met Kushner while they were both undergraduates at Columbia University. When his work later attracted publicity, Kushner unfailingly noted in interview after interview that Flynn was the most important intellectual influence in his life. The friendship between Kushner and Flynn tightened after they graduated from Columbia. Kushner went on to study theater directing at New York University—he pursued directing at the time because he was afraid to write—and supported himself working as a switchboard operator at the United Nations Plaza Hotel. There, he met one of his early lovers, Mark Bronnenberg, and began writing and directing plays. One of his first pieces, La fin de la Baleine: An Opera for the Apocalypse, was shaped, in part, by Flynn's ideas on sadomasochism and environmental destruction. Unfortunately, as Lahr noted: "Though the ideas came mainly from Flynn, Kushner created most of the images and got all of the official credit, provoking bitterness and guilt between them."


The guilt and bitterness resulting from the production of La fin de la Baleine was only a precursor to the tempestuous storm that followed. One rainy morning in 1984, Flynn climbed into a taxi. As it was speeding up New York's West Side Highway, the driver lost control of the car and crashed into a tree. The accident left Flynn brain damaged, robbing her of her extraordinary intellect and insight. "I want you to understand how unexpected, how rude it was that this happened," Flynn herself told a writer for the New Yorker years after the accident. "You go and put all your eggs in the brain basket, and they're all smashed up. I was [a graduate student] in the clinical-psych program, and I couldn't read. I felt like I had a brick tied to my tongue. It's like it's not your own body anymore; some demon has taken control of it." Flynn's accident profoundly influenced Kushner and gave him the material which eventually led him to write Angels in America.


Kushner's early plays did not focus on gay themes. A Bright Room Called Day, perhaps the best known of his pre-Angels works, concerns a group of liberal-minded acquaintances in the Weimar Republic of Germany, just before the establishment of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. M. Elizabeth Osborn described the plot in Contemporary Dramatists: A "circle of friends disintegrates under the pressures of Hitler's rise to power, one after another forced into hiding or exile until just one woman, Agnes, is left cowering in her apartment." This main story is entwined, however, with the commentary of Zillah Katz, a contemporary young American woman, who draws parallels—sometimes extreme—between Hitler's regime and the administrations of U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. Osborn quoted Kushner as explaining that he continues to rewrite Zillah's lines because he "will cheerfully supply new material, drawing appropriate parallels between contemporary and historical monsters and their monstrous acts, regardless of how superficially outrageous such comparisons may seem. To refuse to compare is to rob history of its power to inform present action."

When A Bright Room Called Day was performed in New York City in 1991, it received less-than-enthusiastic reviews. A somewhat neutral Gerald Weales, writing in Commonweal, labeled it "ambitious," but observed that it is "a more despairing play than it probably is intended to be." Less ambiguous was the response of Frank Rich in the New York Times, who took exception to Kushner's linking of Nazi Germany with the United States during the 1980s. "Is the time ever right for a political work in which the National Socialism of the Third Reich is trivialized by being equated with the 'national senility' of the Reagan era?" he demanded. Rich also called the work "fatuous" and "an early front-runner for the most infuriating play of 1991." A Bright Room Called Day did, however, impress Oskar Eustis, then artistic director of the Eureka Theater in San Francisco, California. Eustis commissioned Kushner to write a comic play for his theater. This was the play that would become Angels in America, though the Eureka was no longer in existence by the time the entire play was ready for production.



Writes Angels in America

Though Angels in America is filled with many different characters, it is meant to be performed by eight persons who each play several roles. In the play's first part, Millennium Approaches, the story focuses on two couples—two gay men named Louis and Prior dealing with Prior's AIDS, and Harper and Joe, a nominally straight couple—although the married Mormon man, Joe, is trying to suppress his secret homosexuality. Also central to the play is lawyer Roy Cohn, a character based on the attorney who helped Senator Joseph McCarthy investigate suspected communists during the 1950s. Cohn also persecuted gays, although he himself was a closet homosexual who eventually died of AIDS. The play's Cohn, whom Joe works for, is true to the somewhat rapacious image of the historical figure. Lloyd Rose explained in the Washington Post that "Cohn is clearly meant to be the Devil of the piece: the man who lies to himself, who abuses his power, who has sacrificed his moral self for success. Yet the play jolts with energy whenever he's onstage, because his self-hatred turns splendidly and splenetically outward. . . . Cohn rages against the definitions society would force on him. He destroys his own soul in satanic spite, and he goes down raging and in flames." In one scene, for example, after his doctor has told him that he has AIDS, Cohn declaims against labels: "They tell you one thing and one thing only: where does an individual so identified fit in the food chain, in the pecking order? Not ideology, or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout. . . . Now to someone who does not understand
this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men. But really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout. Does this sound like me, Henry?"


While Millennium Approaches served as "a political call to arms for the age of AIDS," as Rich noted in the New York Times, the reviewer added that "it is no polemic." Critics of the play in its various performances greeted it with high praise. Rich himself first reviewed the London staging of Angels in America's first part, and at that time hailed it in the New York Times as "a searching and radical rethinking of the whole esthetic of American political drama in which far-flung hallucinations, explicit sexual encounters and camp humor are given as much weight as erudite ideological argument." John Lahr in the New Yorker noted that Kushner, "with immense good humor and accessible characters . . . honors the gay community by telling a story that sets its concerns in the larger historical context of American political life."

Millennium Approaches takes its name from the sense of apocalypse the character Prior feels while dealing with his deadly disease. At the end, an angel descends dramatically to visit him, and he is declared a prophet, temporarily, at least, saved from death by AIDS. By contrast, the second part of Angels, Perestroika, is a somewhat quieter piece, getting its title from the Russian word ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev used for his proposals for "restructuring" Soviet economic and social policies away from repression and toward a free society. As Lahr reported, Perestroika "is the messier but more interesting of the two plays, skillfully steering its characters from the sins of separation in the eighties to a new sense of community in the embattled nineties." In Perestroika, the glorious being that visited Prior at the end of the first part turns out to represent stasis or death, and Prior decides to reject it. Cohn dies, but this does not prevent his ghost from reappearing later in the play—in the role of God's lawyer, no less. The comedy of Millennium continues; in Perestroika, according to Lahr, "Kushner uses laughter carefully, to deflate the maudlin and to build a complex tapestry of ironic emotion." Lahr concluded that Kushner's work is "a victory . . . for the transforming power of the imagination to turn devastation into beauty."


In 1995 Kushner wrote and produced what he has termed a "coda" to Angels in America: Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, which Christopher Hawthorne of Salon.com called "a compact, quirky exploration of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ruin, both philosophical and environmental, left in its wake." Slavs! resembles the Angels in America plays because, according to Kushner in an interview with Andrea Bernstein of Mother Jones, the play proceeds from the problem that if you do not know where you are heading, it is difficult to move or make choices. In Slavs! the character Prelapsarianov, "the world's oldest living Bolshevik," asks, "How are we to proceed without theory? Is it enough to reject the past, is it wise to move forward in this blind fashion? . . . You who live in this sour little age cannot imagine the sheer grandeur of the prospect we gazed upon." Slavs!, Kushner told Bernstein, answers the conundrum of whether we make history or are made by history by arguing that socialists need to stop looking to the past for an appropriate antecedent upon which to model the present revolutionary response. Kushner also remarked that in the United States it is easier to come out as a gay man than it is as a socialist. Reviews of Slavs! were somewhat lukewarm, and Kushner suspects it is because "people have been promised over and over by the media . . . that we don't have to think about these issues" anymore.

Adapts Yiddish Play for Contemporary Stage

Continuing Kushner's examination of how the past informs present choices and shapes decisions people make about the future is his play A Dybbuk; or, Between Two Worlds, an adaptation of S. Ansky's 1920 Yiddish play. A Dybbuk concerns the marriage of a young woman, Leah, the daughter of a wealthy man who has broken off negotiations with three prospective husbands because he is displeased with the financial terms of the engagements. A poor Yeshiva student loves Leah, and she secretly returns his passion. When the father announces that he has finally settled on an appropriate husband for Leah, the student, Khonen, turns to dark spiritual forces to prevent the marriage. Khonen returns as a dybbuk, a spirit that takes possession of Leah's body. When the father consults a Hassidic rabbi for assistance, he finds himself under judgment. It seems that long ago the father promised Leah to Khonen, but greed for a wealthy match has since blinded him to Leah's fate. In the end, he pays for his transgression by donating half his wealth to the poor. Commenting on the play in Variety, Charles Isherwood suggested that its central truth "is the idea that even the smallest, most unintended immoral act can have profound social and even metaphysical consequences."


Writing in New York magazine, John Simon observed that in Kushner's updated version of A Dybbuk "S. Ansky's old chestnut . . . comes funnily, furiously, crochetily alive, as it links the two worlds of the living and the dead, the musty past and the lively present." Isherwood further commented that "the strange flavor of the play defies easy description," but overall he commended the closing speech and the ways in which the play finds connections with the evil of the Holocaust. Ben Brantley of the New York Times noted that there are "lovely touches" throughout the production, "not least the hauntingly atmospheric music of the Klezmatics." Brantley lamented the play's "analytical detachment," but found that "Kushner and Neugroschel have imbued much of their adaptation's language with an exquisite sense of poetry."


Homebody/Kabul, Kushner's play about Afghanistan, opens with an hour-long monologue by a British homemaker—the Homebody—on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything in it, and the remaining two hours and forty minutes are taken up with a murder committed in the Afghan city of Kabul. The first hour, in which the woman reveals her empty marriage and encounter with an Afghan shopkeeper, is sometimes performed by itself. As James Reston, Jr. wrote in American Theatre, "the Homebody's confrontation with the terrible emptiness of her life leads to her disappearance. The playwright has her act on her romance, even if it means going to an unimaginably awful place, where she can take on the burqua, submit to a husband as his second or third wife, devote herself, unthinking like a teenager in a madrassa, to committing the entire Koran to memory. She acts on romance, and she sticks to it. She has rejected the values of her home, of her life, of her society, of the West. In the act is the whiff of metaphysical treason." Toby Young reviewed the play for the Spectator, and noted that the central focus "is the clash between the militant fundamentalism of the East and the moribund humanism of the West, yet it also touches on other, equally big subjects, such as the limits of scientific knowledge and the roles played by language and history in exacerbating international conflicts." Robert Brustein wrote in the New Republic that the play opened in December of 2000, prior to the attack on the World Trade Center of September 11, 2001; the changes wrought by the attack left the play "crying out for revision," according to the critic. Brustein also noted that although the play is set in 1998, "it is now impossible to imagine these Western characters circulating among the Taliban without thinking of abductions, corpses, bomb craters, detention camps, and . . . terrorist attacks."

In 2004 Kushner 's musical Caroline, or Change opened on Broadway. Set in 1963 Louisiana and examining the tensions between a liberal Jewish family that supports civil rights and the Southern black the family employs, the play addresses the societal changes of the era. Caroline Thibodeaux, an African American, works as a maid for Rose Stopnick, a woman who is estranged from her husband and stepson. The two women are "emotionally isolated but interdependent characters, yoked together by economic necessity," as Charles Isherwood described them in Variety. When the stepson, lonely eight-year-old Noah, tries to develop a friendship with the indifferent Caroline, and encourages her to keep whatever pocket change she may find in his clothes when doing the laundry, it leads to a misunderstanding that makes the household's relationships increasingly strained. Isherwood concluded that Caroline, or Change is not only "acute in its analysis of a complicated social ecosystem, it is smart and often witty, too, in its observation of the wary, rarely explored interaction between liberal Jewish culture of the 1960s and the black culture of the South." Richard Zoglin commented in Time that "at a time when musicals seem to be groping for ways to move beyond campy Broadway fluff without boring an audience to tears, Caroline is a breakthrough." The play went on to win Kushner a Village Voice Off-Broadway Award and the Lucille Lortel Award.

Success has not dulled Kushner's sense of self-loathing, "a profound feeling of fraudulence, of being detestable and evil," as he once described it in the New Yorker. He has also characterized the feeling as a rage at injustice, a rage he experienced as a gay young man and, more recently, at the senseless tragedies he has viewed around him. "My anger may be oedipal—-mommy and daddy issues—-but it's politically, and dramaturgically, useful," he remarked in Vogue. "Anger at authority is connected to anger at injustice, and that anger is what we're heir to in a world as unfair as this. I try to remember the distinction [German playwright Bertolt] Brecht makes between reactionary anger, which is short, and revolutionary anger, which is long. That's why I need—-and I've been trying, ever since my mother died—-I need to learn how to pray."

If you enjoy the works of Tony Kushner

If you enjoy the works of Tony Kushner, you may also want to check out the following:


The plays of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), Larry Kramer (1935-), and John Guare (1938-).


Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

American Writers, Supplement IX, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.

Brask, Per, editor, Essays on Kushner's Angels, Blizzard Publishing (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1995.

Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Contemporary American Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 81, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 228: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Drama Criticism, Volume 10, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Drama for Students, Volume 5, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Fisher, James, The Theater of Tony Kushner, Routledge, 2001.

Frantzen, Allen J., Before the Closet: Same-Sex Love from "Beowolf" to "Angels in America," University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1998.

Gay and Lesbian Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Geis, Deborah R., and Steven F. Kruger, Approaching the Millennium: Essays on "Angels in America," University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Reference Guide to American Literature, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Savran, David, Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1996.

Vorlicky, Robert, editor, Tony Kushner in Conversation, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.



PERIODICALS

Advocate, November 17, 1992; December 14, 1993; December 28, 1993; February 5, 2002, Don Shewey, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 49.

America, May 29, 1993; March 5, 1994, p. 12.

American Theatre, April, 1999, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 45; September, 2000, Irene Oppenheim, "Shedding More Light on Bright Room," p. 75; March, 2002, James Reston, Jr., review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 28; December, 2003, "The Angels Decade: 22 Interviews," p. 32.

Back Stage, January 28, 1994, Irene Backalenick, review of The Illusion, p. 60; January 11, 2002, David A. Rosenberg, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 43; December 5, 2003, Irene Backalenick, review of Caroline, or Change, p. 56.

Back Stage West, September 21, 2001, John Angell Grant, review of The Illusion, p. 24.

Booklist, September 1, 1993; April 15, 1994; January, 1, 1995, review of A Bright Room Called Day, p. 795; April 1, 1995, p. 1372; July, 1998, Ray Olson, review of A Dybbuk, pp. 1851-1874.

Chicago, September, 1994, p. 37.

Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1993.

Choice, September, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 198.

Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 1994, review of Millennium Approaches, p. A63.

Commentary, January, 1995, p. 51.

Commonweal, February 22, 1991, p. 132; July 16, 1993.

Daily Variety, August 27, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 12.

Detroit News, June 1, 1993, p. D3.

Economist, February 22, 1992; December 4, 1993.

Entertainment Weekly, November 26, 1993.

Europe Intelligence Wire, October 14, 2002, review of Angels in America.

Interview, February, 1994, Mark Marvel, "A Conversation with Tony Kushner."

Lambda Book Report, May, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 24; January, 1995, review of A Bright Room Called Day, p. 47.

Library Journal, July, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 94; January, 1998, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 101; September 15, 1999, review of Refugees in an Age of Genocide, p. 99.

London Review of Books, August 18, 1994, review of The Jewish Heritage in British History, p. 23.

Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1990, Richard Stayton, "An Epic Look at Reagan-Era Morality," pp. 45-46, 48; May 6, 1993, pp. F1, F7; December 24, 1995, review of Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 24, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 12.

Mother Jones, July-August, 1995, Andrea Bernstein, interview with Kushner, p. 59.

Nation, March 18, 1991; February 22, 1993; July 4, 1994; February 6, 1995, p. 177.

National Review, June 7, 1993; January 24, 1994, p. 71.

New Leader, June 14, 1993; December 13, 1993.

New Republic, May 24, 1993, Robert Brustein, "Angles in America," pp. 29-31; June 14, 1993; December 27, 1993, p. 25; January 30, 1995, p. 30; March 18, 2002, Robert Brustein, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 27.

Newsweek, May 10, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 83; June 27, 1994, p. 46; December 17, 2001, Marc Peyser, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 68.

New York, January 21, 1991; April 12, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 130; April 4, 1994, p. 74; January 31, 1994, p. 69; December 1, 1997, p. 110.

New Yorker, November 23, 1992, John Lahr, "Beyond Nelly," pp. 126-130; November 30, 1992, Arthur Lubow, "Tony Kushner's Paradise Lost," pp. 59-61; May 31, 1993; June 21, 1993; December 13, 1993, p. 129; January 9, 1995, p. 85; December 8, 2003, John Lahr, review of Caroline, or Change, p. 123.

New York Times, January 18, 1990; January 8, 1991, pp. C11, C14; March 5, 1992, Frank Rich, "The Reaganite Ethos with Roy Cohn as a Dark Metaphor," pp. C1, C21; September 13, 1992, Susan Cheever, "An Angel Sat down at His Table," p. 7; November 10, 1992, Frank Rich, "Marching out of the Closet into History," p. C15; April 14, 1993, p. B6; May 5, 1993; June 7, 1993; November 21, 1993; December 4, 1994; November 17, 1997, p. B2, B5; November 23, 1997, p. AR20; March 1, 1998.

New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1993, Bruce Weber, "Angels' Angels," pp. 29-30, 48, 56.

People, December 15, 2003, Terry Kelleher, review of Angels in America (television mini-series), p. 35.

Progressive, October, 1994, Bob Blanchard, "Playwright of Pain and Hope," pp. 42-44.

Publishers Weekly, June 26, 1995, review of Slavs!, p. 105.

Spectator, June 1, 2002, Toby Young, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 48.

Theatre Week, December 20-26, 1993, Gerard Raymond, "Q and A with Tony Kushner," pp. 14-20.

Time, November 23, 1992; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993; December 22, 2003, Richard Zoglin, review of Caroline, or Change, p. 123.

Translation Review Supplement, December, 1999, review of A Dybbuk, p. 35.

Vanity Fair, March, 1993, Christopher Hitchens, "Angels over Broadway," pp. 72-76.

Variety, January 17, 1990; January 14, 1991; July 29, 1991; August 12, 1991; November 16, 1992; May 10, 1993; December 6, 1993; January 24, 1994; May 9, 1994; August 8, 1994; October 17, 1994; October 31, 1994; December 19, 1994, p. 86; February 27, 1995, p. 83; March 6, 1995, p. 71; November 18, 1997; September 2, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 33; May 10, 2004, Charles Isherwood, review of Caroline, or Change, p. 54.

Village Voice, December 7, 1993; April 18, 1995.

Vogue, November, 1992.

Wall Street Journal, November 26, 1997, p. A12.

Washington Post, November 7, 1992, pp. G1, G4; May 5, 1993, B1, B10.

World Literature Today, winter, 1995, review of Angels in America, p. 144; summer, 1996, review of Slavs!, p. 695.


ONLINE

GayWorld.com,http://www.gayworld.com/ (October 13, 2004), interview with Kushner.

Metro Active.com,http://www.metroactive.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Earth Angel: Tony Kushner Speaks on Art and Politics."

Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (September, 1997), Christopher Hawthorne, review of Slavs!; (August 6, 2004) Christopher Hawthorne, "Tony Kushner: Coming out as a Socialist."

Steven Barclay Agency,http://www.barclayagency.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Tony Kushner."*

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Kushner, Tony

KUSHNER, Tony

KUSHNER, Tony. American, b. 1956. Genres: Plays/Screenplays. Career: Theatre Communication Group, NYC, director of literary services, 1990-91; Juilliard School of Drama, NYC, playwright-in-residence, 1990-92. Guest artist at New York University Graduate Theatre Program, Yale University, and Princeton University, 1989-. Publications: PLAYS: Yes, Yes, No, No (juvenile), 1987; Stella, 1987; A Bright Room Called Day, 1991; Hydriotaphia, 1987; The Illusion, 1988; (with A. Dorfman) Widows, 1991; Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One: Millennium Approaches, 1992, Part Two: Perestroika, 1992; Slavs!: Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, 1995; Dybbuk and Other Tales of the Supernatural, 1997; Death & Taxes, 2000; (with M. Sendak) Brundibar, 2003; Caroline, or Change, 2003. Address: c/o Joyce Ketay Agency, 1501 Broadway Ste 1908, New York, NY 10036, U.S.A.

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Kushner, Tony 1956-

KUSHNER, Tony 1956-

PERSONAL: Born July 16, 1956, in New York, NY. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1978; New York University, M.F.A., 1984.

ADDRESSES: Office—Walter Kerr Theatre, 225 West 48th St., New York, NY 10036. Agent—Joyce Ketay Agency, 1501 Broadway, Ste. 1908, New York, NY 10036.

CAREER: United Nations Plaza Hotel, New York, NY, switchboard operator, 1979-85; St. Louis Repertory Theatre, St. Louis, MO, assistant director, 1985-86; New York Theatre Workshop, New York, artistic director, 1987-88; Theatre Communication Group, New York, director of literary services, 1990-91; Juilliard School of Drama, New York, playwright-in-residence, 1990-92. Guest artist at New York University Graduate Theatre Program, Yale University, and Princeton University, beginning 1989.

MEMBER: AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

AWARDS, HONORS: Directing fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1985, 1987, and 1993; Princess Grace Award, 1986; playwriting fellowship, New York State Council for the Arts, 1987; John Whiting Award, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1990; Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays Awards, 1990 and 1992; Kesserling Award, National Arts Club, 1992; Will Glickman playwriting prize, 1992; London Evening Standard Award, 1992; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Antoinette Perry Award ("Tony") for best play, and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, all 1993, all for Millennium Approaches, Part One of Angels in America; American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, 1994; Tony Award for best play, 1994, for Perestroika, Part Two of Angels in America; Lambda Literary Award, Drama, 1994, for Angels in America; Lambda Literary Award, Lesbian and Gay Drama, 1996, for Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer; Village Voice Obie Award, 2002, for Homebody/Kabul.

WRITINGS:

plays

Yes, Yes, No, No (juvenile; produced in St. Louis, MO, 1985), published in Plays in Process, 1987.

Stella (adapted from the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), produced in New York, NY, 1987.

A Bright Room Called Day (produced in San Francisco, CA, 1987), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

Hydriotaphia, produced in New York, NY, 1987.

The Illusion (adapted from Pierre Corneille's play L'Illusion comique; produced in New York, NY, 1988, revised version produced in Hartford, CT, 1990), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

(With Ariel Dorfman) Widows (adapted from a book by Ariel Dorfman), produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1991.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One: Millennium Approaches (produced in San Francisco, 1991), Hern, 1992, Part Two: Perestroika, produced in New York, NY, 1992.

A Bright Room Called Day, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1994.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (includes both parts; produced as two-part television film on Home Box Office, 2003), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

A Dybbuk; or, Between Two Worlds (adapted from Joachim Neugroschel's translation of the original play by S. Ansky; produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 1997), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1997.

The Good Person of Szechuan (adapted from the original play by Bertolt Brecht), Arcade, 1997.

(With Eric Bogosian and others) Love's Fire: Seven New Plays Inspired by Seven Shakespearean Sonnets, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Henry Box Brown, or the Mirror of Slavery, performed at Royal National Theatre, London, 1998.

Homebody/Kabul, (produced in New York, NY, 2001), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2002.

Caroline or Change (musical), produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 2002.

other

A Meditation from Angels in America, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1994.

Tony Kushner in Conversation, edited by Robert Vorlicky, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Death and Taxes: Hydriotaphia, and Other Plays, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2000.

Brundibar, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Michael di Capua/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Playwright Tony Kushner took the theater world by storm in the early 1990s with his epic drama, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. A seven-hour play in two separate parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, Angels in America explores in uncompromising terms what it was like to be gay and affected by AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) during the 1980s and 1990s. Despite its grim subject matter and open attacks on the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the play has proved quite popular with mainstream audiences from Broadway to Los Angeles and London. It has also won great acclaim from drama critics, garnering both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and two Antoinette Perry ("Tony") awards for best play in 1993 and 1994.

Kushner was born in New York City in 1956, but his parents, who were classical musicians, moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, shortly after his birth. His parents encouraged Kushner and his siblings to explore literature and the arts; the children were given a dollar whenever they had memorized a poem to recite. His mother was also an actress, and Kushner confided to Susan Cheever in the New York Times that "that's the major reason I went into the theater. I saw some of her performances when I was four or five years old and they were so powerful. I had vivid dreams afterwards." Kushner realized he was different from most other children in yet another significant way, however. "I have fairly clear memories of being gay since I was six," the playwright told Richard Stayton in the Los Angeles Times. "I knew that I felt slightly different than most of the boys I was growing up with. By the time I was eleven there was no doubt. But I was completely in the closet."

He continued to keep his sexuality a secret throughout his undergraduate years at Columbia University, during which time he underwent psychotherapy trying to become heterosexual, even though his therapist told him at the beginning of treatment that psychotherapy did not change people's sexual orientation. Kushner eventually accepted this and "came out," meaning he told his family and friends that he was gay.

Kushner's early plays, however, did not focus on gay themes. A Bright Room Called Day, perhaps the best-known of his pre-Angels works, concerns a group of liberal-minded acquaintances in the Weimar Republic of Germany, just before the establishment of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. M. Elizabeth Osborn described the plot in Contemporary Dramatists, saying, this "circle of friends disintegrates under the pressures of Hitler's rise to power, one after another forced into hiding or exile until just one woman, Agnes, is left cowering in her apartment." This main story is entwined, however, with the commentary of Zillah Katz, a contemporary young American woman, who draws parallels—sometimes extreme—between Hitler's regime and the administrations of U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. Osborn quoted Kushner as explaining that he continues to rewrite Zillah's lines because he "will cheerfully supply new material, drawing appropriate parallels between contemporary and historical monsters and their monstrous acts, regardless of how superficially outrageous such comparisons may seem. To refuse to compare is to rob history of its power to inform present action."

When A Bright Room Called Day was performed in New York City in 1991, it received less than enthusiastic reviews. A somewhat neutral Gerald Weales in Commonweal labeled it "ambitious," but observed that he felt it was "a more despairing play than it probably intended to be." Less ambiguous was the response of Frank Rich in the New York Times, who took exception to Kushner's linking of Nazi Germany with the United States during the 1980s. "Is the time ever right for a political work in which the National Socialism of the Third Reich is trivialized by being equated with the 'national senility' of the Reagan era?" he demanded. Rich also called the work "fatuous" and "an early front-runner for the most infuriating play of 1991." A Bright Room Called Day did, however, impress Oskar Eustis, then artistic director of the Eureka Theater in San Francisco, California. He commissioned Kushner to write a comic play for his theater. This was the play that would become Angels in America, though the Eureka would no longer exist by the time the entire play was ready for production.

Though Angels in America is filled with many different characters, it is meant to be performed by eight persons who each play several roles. In Millennium Approaches, the story focuses on two couples—two gay men named Louis and Prior dealing with Prior's AIDS, and Harper and Joe, a nominally straight couple—although the married Mormon man, Joe, is trying to suppress his secret homosexuality. Also central to the play is the figure of lawyer Roy Cohn—based on the real Cohn who helped Senator Joseph McCarthy persecute suspected communists during the 1950s. Cohn also persecuted gays, although he himself was a closet homosexual and died of AIDS. The play's Cohn, whom Joe works for, is true to the somewhat rapacious image of the historical figure. Lloyd Rose in the Washington Post explained that "Cohn is clearly meant to be the Devil of the piece: the man who lies to himself, who abuses his power, who has sacrificed his moral self for success. Yet the play jolts with energy whenever he's onstage, because his self-hatred turns splendidly and splenetically outward.… Cohn rages against the definitions society would force on him. He destroys his own soul in satanic spite, and he goes down raging and in flames." In one scene, for example, after his doctor has told him that he has AIDS, Cohn declaims against labels: "They tell you one thing and one thing only: where does an individual so identified fit in the food chain, in the pecking order? Not ideology, or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout.…Now to someone who does not understand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men. But really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout. Does this sound like me, Henry?"

Yet, while "the play is a political call to arms for the age of AIDS," as Rich noted in the New York Times, "it is no polemic." Critics of Millennium Approaches in its various performances greeted it with high praise. Rich himself first reviewed the London staging of Angels in America's first part, and at that time hailed it in the New York Times as "a searching and radical rethinking of the whole esthetic of American political drama in which far-flung hallucinations, explicit sexual encounters and camp humor are given as much weight as erudite ideological argument." John Lahr in the New Yorker noted that Kushner, "with immense good humor and accessible characters … honors the gay community by telling a story that sets its concerns in the larger historical context of American political life."

Millennium Approaches takes its name from the sense of apocalypse the character Prior feels while dealing with his deadly disease. At the end, an angel descends dramatically to visit him, and he is declared a prophet, temporarily, at least, saved from death by AIDS. Perestroika, by contrast, is a somewhat quieter piece, getting its title from the Russian word ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev used for his proposals for "restructuring" economic and social policies. As Lahr reported, Perestroika "is the messier but more interesting of the two plays, skillfully steering its characters from the sins of separation in the eighties to a new sense of community in the embattled nineties." In the second part of Angels, the glorious being that visited Prior at the end of the first part turns out to represent stasis or death, and Prior decides to reject it. Cohn dies, but this does not prevent his ghost from reappearing later in the play—in the role of God's lawyer, no less. The comedy of Millennium continues; in Perestroika, according to Lahr, "Kushner uses laughter carefully, to deflate the maudlin and to build a complex tapestry of ironic emotion." Lahr concluded that Kushner's work is "a victory … for the transforming power of the imagination to turn devastation into beauty."

In 1995 Kushner wrote and produced what he terms a "coda" to Angels in America, Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, which Christopher Hawthorne of Salon.com called "a compact, quirky exploration of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ruin, both philosophical and environmental, left in its wake." Slavs! resembles the Angels in America plays because, according to Kushner in an interview with Andrea Bernstein of Mother Jones, the play proceeds from the problem that if you do not know where you are heading, it is difficult to move or make choices. In Slavs!, the character Prelapsarianov, "the world's oldest living Bolshevik," asks, "How are we to proceed without theory? Is it enough to reject the past, is it wise to move forward in this blind fashion? … You who live in this sour little age cannot imagine the sheer grandeur of the prospect we gazed upon." Slavs!, Kushner told Mother Jones, answers the conundrum of whether we make history or are made by history by arguing that socialists need to stop looking to the past for an appropriate antecedent upon which to model the present revolutionary response. Kushner also remarked that in the United States it is easier to come out as a gay man than it is as a socialist. Reviews of Slavs! were somewhat lukewarm, and Kushner suspects it is because "people have been promised over and over by the media … that we don't have to think about these issues" anymore.

Continuing Kushner's search for how the past informs people's present choices and shapes the choices they make about the future is his play, A Dybbuk; or Between Two Worlds, an adaptation of S. Ansky's 1920 Yiddish play. A Dybbuk concerns the marriage of a young woman, Leah, the daughter of a wealthy man who has broken off negotiations with three prospective husbands because he is displeased with the financial terms of the engagements. A poor Yeshiva student loves Leah, and she secretly returns his passion. When the father announces that he has finally settled on an appropriate husband for Leah, the student, Khonen, turns to dark spiritual forces to prevent the marriage. Khonen returns as a dybbuk, a spirit that takes possession of Leah's body. When the father turns to a Hasidic rabbi for assistance, he finds himself under judgment. It seems that long ago, the father promised Leah to Khonen, but greed for a wealthy match had blinded him to Leah's fate. In the end, he pays for his transgression by donating half his wealth to the poor. Commenting on the play in Variety, Charles Isherwood suggested that the play's central truth "is the idea that even the smallest, most unintended immoral act can have profound social and even metaphysical consequences."

Writing in New York magazine, John Simon observed, "In A Dybbuk … Kushner's adaptation of S. Ansky's old chestnut, the work comes funnily, furiously, crochetily alive, as it links the two worlds of the living and the dead, the musty past and the lively present." Isherwood further commented, "The strange flavor of the play defies easy description," but overall he commended the closing speech and the ways in which the play finds connections with the evil of the Holocaust. Ben Brantley of the New York Times noted that there are "lovely touches" throughout the production, "not least the hauntingly atmospheric music of the Klezmatics." Brantley lamented the play's "analytical detachment," but found that "Kushner and Neugroschel have imbued much of their adaptation's language with an exquisite sense of poetry."

Homebody/Kabul, Kushner's play about Afghanistan, opens with an hour-long monologue by a British housewife on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything in it, and the remaining two hours and forty minutes are taken up with a murder committed in Kabul. The first hour, in which the woman reveals her empty marriage and encounter with an Afghan shopkeeper, has been performed by itself. James Reston, Jr. wrote in American Theatre that "the Homebody's confrontation with the terrible emptiness of her life leads to her disappearance. The playwright has her act on her romance, even if it means going to an unimaginably awful place, where she can take on the burqua, submit to a husband as his second or third wife, devote herself, unthinking like a teenager in a madrassa, to committing the entire Koran to memory. She acts on romance, and she sticks to it. She has rejected the values of her home, of her life, of her society, of the West. In the act is the whiff of metaphysical treason."

Toby Young reviewed the play in the Spectator, saying that the central focus "is the clash between the militant fundamentalism of the East and the moribund humanism of the West, yet it also touches on other, equally big subjects, such as the limits of scientific knowledge and the roles played by language and history in exacerbating international conflicts."

Robert Brustein noted in the New Republic that the play opened in December, 2000, prior to the attack on the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001, after which Brustein felt it "was crying out for revision." Brustein felt that although the play is set in 1998, "it is now impossible to imagine these Western characters circulating among the Taliban without thinking of abductions, corpses, bomb craters, detention camps, and the recent terrorist attacks." He continued, "On second thought, instead of trying to update his play, Kushner might better have employed his energies trying to find some unity for it, or at least settling on what it was supposed to be about in the first place. I say this with profound respect for Kushner's talents. He is one of the very few dramatists now writing whose works are contributions to literature as well as to theater."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

books

American Writers, Supplement IX, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001, pp. 131-149.

Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Contemporary Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 81, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 228: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Gale (Detroit, MI), pp. 144-160.

Drama Criticism, Volume 10, Gale (Detroit, MI), pp. 212-283.

Drama for Students, Volume 5, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 1-33.

Geis, Deborah R., and Steven F. Kruger, Approaching the Millennium: Essays on "Angels in America," University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Savran, David, Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1996.

Vorlicky, Robert, editor, Tony Kushner in Conversation, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

periodicals

Advocate, November 17, 1992; December 14, 1993; December 28, 1993; February 5, 2002, Don Shewey, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 49.

America, May 29, 1993; March 5, 1994, p. 12.

American Theatre, April, 1999, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 45; September, 2000, Irene Oppenheim, "Shedding More Light on Bright Room," p. 75; March, 2002, James Reston, Jr., review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 28.

Back Stage, January 28, 1994, Irene Backalenick, review of The Illusion, p. 60; January 11, 2002, David A. Rosenberg, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 43.

Back Stage West, September 21, 2001, John Angell Grant, review of The Illusion, p. 24.

Booklist, September 1, 1993; April 15, 1994; January, 1, 1995, review of A Bright Room Called Day, p. 795; April 1, 1995, p. 1372; July, 1998, Ray Olson, review of A Dybbuk pp. 1851-1874.

Chicago, September, 1994, p. 37.

Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1993.

Choice, September, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 198.

Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 1994, review of Millennium Approaches, p. A63.

Commentary, January, 1995, p. 51.

Commonweal, February 22, 1991, p. 132; July 16, 1993.

Daily Variety, August 27, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 12.

Detroit News, June 1, 1993, p. 3D.

Economist, February 22, 1992; December 4, 1993.

Entertainment Weekly, November 26, 1993.

Europe Intelligence Wire, October 14, 2002, review of Angels in America.

Interview, February, 1994.

Lambda Book Report, May, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 24; January, 1995, review of A Bright Room Called Day, p. 47.

Library Journal, July, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 94; January, 1998, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 101; September 15, 1999, review of Refugees in an Age of Genocide, p. 99.

London Review of Books, August 18, 1994, review of The Jewish Heritage in British History, p. 23.

Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1990, pp. 45-46, 48; May 6, 1993, pp. F1, F7; December 24, 1995, review of Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, p. 11.

Mother Jones, July-August, 1995, p. 59.

Nation, March 18, 1991; February 22, 1993; July 4, 1994; February 6, 1995, p. 177.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 24, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 12.

National Review, June 7, 1993; January 24, 1994, p. 71.

New Leader, June 14, 1993; December 13, 1993.

New Republic, May 24, 1993; June 14, 1993; December 27, 1993, p. 25; January 30, 1995, p. 30; March 18, 2002, Robert Brustein, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 27.

Newsweek, May 10, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 83; June 27, 1994, p. 46; December 17, 2001, Marc Peyser, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 68.

New York, January 21, 1991; April 12, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 130; April 4, 1994, p. 74; January 31, 1994, p. 69; December 1, 1997, p. 110.

New Yorker, November 23, 1992, pp. 126-130; May 31, 1993; June 21, 1993; December 13, 1993, p. 129; January 9, 1995, p. 85.

New York Times, January 18, 1990; January 8, 1991, p. C11, C14; March 5, 1992, C1, C21; September 13, 1992; April 14, 1993, p. B6; May 5, 1993; June 7, 1993; November 21, 1993; December 4, 1994; November 17, 1997, p. B2, B5; November 23, 1997, p. AR20; March 1, 1998.

New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1993, pp. 29-30, 48, 56.

Publishers Weekly, June 26, 1995, review of Slavs!, p. 105.

Spectator, June 1, 2002, Toby Young, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 48.

Time, November 23, 1992; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993.

Translation Review Supplement, December, 1999, review of A Dybbuk, p. 35.

Vanity Fair, March, 1993.

Variety, January 17, 1990; January 14, 1991; July 29, 1991; August 12, 1991; November 16, 1992; May 10, 1993; December 6, 1993; January 24, 1994; May 9, 1994; August 8, 1994; October 17, 1994; October 31, 1994; December 19, 1994, p. 86; February 27, 1995, p. 83; March 6, 1995, p. 71; November 18, 1997; September 2, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 33.

Village Voice December 7, 1993; April 18, 1995.

Vogue, November, 1992.

Wall Street Journal, November 26, 1997, p. A12.

Washington Post, November 7, 1992, pp. G1, G4; May 5, 1993, B1, B10.

World Literature Today, winter, 1995, review of Angels in America, p. 144; summer, 1996, review of Slavs!, p. 695.

online

Metro Active Stage,http://www.metroactive.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Earth Angel: Tony Kushner Speaks on Art and Politics."

Playbill Web site,http://www.playbill.com/ (October 23, 2003), "Kushner's Angels in America Film Debuts in Two Parts on HBO, December 7 and 14."

Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (September, 1997), Christopher Hawthorne, review of Slavs!.

Steven Barclay Agency Web site,http://www.barclayagency.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Tony Kushner."*

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