Tony Kushner is taken to task from time to time for his harsh treatment of Joe Pitts, the closeted, Republican, Mormon lawyer whose self-hatred motivates so much of the plays’ drama (and poisons his marriage to Harper). Those critics must ignore this passage, which is among the most beautiful and heartbreaking Kushner has written. It’s been at the very back of my mind for nearly a week now but came front and center earlier this evening.
Miller’s politics made him an enemy of the Right when he balked at the hypocrisy of anti-communist politicking, and an enemy of the Left when his “confused liberalism” (in the words of Eric Mottram) was deemed unsatisfactory at a time of revolutionary struggle. Miller, for his part, seemed most interested in simply understanding the human causes of human troubles. The work of the artist, you might say.
After living with Miller for the last few days — after rereading The Crucible and After the Fall and a three inch stack of photocopied criticism — I’ve come to one significant conclusion: I don’t like Miller. His early work shows an obvious knack for wrenching every last drop of sentiment and inevitable heartbreak from a tragic narrative, but, damn, they are really unpleasant to read. His language is starving for poetry.
I’m thrilled so far with Angels. Mary-Louise Parker is stealing the show as Harper, and Justin Kirk is fantastic as Prior. The homage to Cocteau and the casting of the prior Priors were both brilliant. But why, in their trimming and reshaping, did Kushner and Nichols have to cut my two favorite lines from Millennium Approaches?
I expect conservatives to be offended by many of the lines spoken by Kushner’s characters; I expect conservative critics to acknowledge the distinction between the message of a particular character and the message of the work as a whole. But that is expecting too much of anyone who writes for a partisan magazine (whether the NRO or The Nation) in a climate like ours.
To be quite honest, I don’t get Fornes’s play. But in this case (as opposed to a few other works I’ve read which have left me similarly perplexed), I feel somewhat driven to figure it out. I’ve decided to begin with the first clue Fornes gives us, the title. Following are my general impressions of Fefu and her friends:
In the third act of Etherege’s The Man of Mode, Young Bellair is surprised to learn that Harriet has as little interest in him (her intended husband) as he has in her. “‘Tis not unnatural for you women to be a little angry, you miss a conquest,” Bellair says, “though you would slight the poor man were he in power.” His comment acknowledges a gender-based power struggle that drives much of the action in Restoration comedy.
The other snapshots of religion offered in Nervous Conditions are equally disturbing. Through Tambu we see a child’s image of God. She speaks of being caned on Monday mornings for not attending the previous day’s Sunday School class. She waits in line as she and the other Africans are inspected for missing buttons and dirty socks. She sees her beloved uncle chastise his daughter for the embarrassment she causes him at church. And worst of all, she accepts it.