Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Crazy for Kushner

Speaking of Tony Kushner, I have recently been re-discovering my love of his work. I think he is the most quotable current American playwright, the one with the most lines that linger in my head. I've been reading the short plays and the one crazy full-length in the Death & Taxes volume for the last few days, which I just learned gives me a jump on Berkeley Rep's new season--they will begin next fall by producing a bill of Kushner one-acts entitled, cutely, Tiny Kushner. I've been pondering the themes that run through his work, too--how much he writes about death (his first two major plays confront the Holocaust and the AIDS crisis!) and yet I do not consider him morbid. I realized that that's why it's so appropriate that the New York Times Magazine, on three occasions, commissioned him to write a one-act play for their annual "The Lives They Lived" issue. It's not just that he is one of our most talented and acclaimed playwrights. It's that he is one of the best at writing about death and the dead.

Meanwhile, I'm listening to my iPod on Shuffle a lot at work, and songs from Caroline or Change keep popping up. I didn't love the score the first time I heard it (on CD--I've never seen the show), but it's really starting to grow on me. I love the use of the different musical idioms for each character. Part of me wonders if Caroline or Change appeared on Broadway five years too early, whether it wouldn't have done better nowadays. The repeated lyrics about "There ain't no underground in Louisiana / There is only / Underwater" resonate much more post-Katrina. And the two social forces that drive the story are black-white race relations, and poverty/income inequality. When do you think those two issues were more in the forefront of American culture: 2004, when the Dow was sitting pretty at about 10,000 and the (99% white) Republicans controlled the government? Or 2009, when we have a black president, and an economic crisis that has made everyone more conscious of the plight of the poor?

Sometimes I remember that Angels in America takes place a year or two before I was born, and I think "All right, it's a portrait of the world you were born into, with all of its problems and injustices. And you will have to change this world for the better." Similarly, Caroline or Change takes place around Kennedy's assassination, that is, two years after Barack Obama was born--and to produce it in 2009 would show how things have gotten better in his lifetime, but also how relevant its themes still are...

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