Drama

So Awfully, Irreducibly Real

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.

Great Critics (And the Rest of Us)

Yesterday I made the mistake of pulling Christopher Bigsby’s latest book from the library shelf. Arthur Miller: A Critical Study (2005) will, I assume, be Bigsby’s final statement on Miller.

Kushner on Miller

“Although he refused the mechanical determinism of the unthinking Marxist left, he created in his greatest play a drama in which it is impossible to avoid thinking about economics–money–in any attempt to render coherent the human tragedy unfolding before you.”

Arthur Miller

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.

Media Blackout

“I’m a Communist because I want the people to take the power that comes with ownership away from the little class of capitalists who have it now.” Subtle, eh?

Living with Miller

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.

My Dissertation (in the News)

“A World in Which Everything Hurts,” a profile of Arthur Miller in The Forward, gets bonus points for mentioning, in a single paragraph, three of the authors I’m writing about in my dissertation.

Streetcar

Williams “without poetry.” That can’t be good.

And One More Thing

For your reading pleasure: some snippets from Tony Kushner’s commentary on the Klezmatic’s recent CD, Possessed. Parts of the commentary, I noticed, have made their way into his and Alisa Solomon’s introduction to their new collection of essays, Wrestling with Zion.

But Is It Funny?

Dale Peck at Slate offers the best critical reading of HBO’s Angels that I’ve found. He points out something that has bothered me a bit as well: the film just isn’t very funny. Which is a shame, because the play is really funny.

Minor Quibbles

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?

For Shits and Giggles

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.

More Angels

Richard Goldstein offers the best one-paragraph synapsis of Angels in America that you’ll ever read. (He also talks to Kushner about Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, the problems of liberalism, and his new musical, Caroline, or Change.)

Radical Pragmatism

In this new interview, Mother Jones calls Tony Kushner a “Radical Pragmatist,” a moniker I wouldn’t mind carrying myself.

The Great Work Begins

If Sullivan reads Angels in America as a Stalinist tract, then I pity his ideological blindness. He’s missing a hell of a play.

Going Digital

HBO’s economic freedom is just one of the many topics of discussion over at Newsweek, where Mike Nichols, Tony Kushner, and their cast are talking up Angels in America.

A Good Hard Rain

I first read Sam Shepard’s Buried Child five years ago in a graduate readings course in American drama. Last night I was finally able to experience it in performance, which, as is always the case with great drama, is a quite different thing.

Film and Stage

Closer will be directed by Mike Nichols, who apparently is going to finish out his career by filming great plays. Two months and counting until I fire up my one-month subscription to HBO in order to watch Nichols’s rendition of Angels in America.

The Good Woman of Setzuan

Several years later I read Mother Courage in a performance theory seminar, and his seemed to me an interesting, if too rigidly intellectual, project. Now, at 31 and with my political positions in something of a flux, I think I’m finally ready to really read Brecht.

Snippets

Two quotes from Tony Kushner.

Kushner on Bush

Tony Kushner on President Bush and military intervention in Iraq.

Homebody/Kabul

Instead of beginning my dissertation prospectus, which really should be occupying a larger chunk of my life right now, I’ve discovered all sorts of distractions that can be justified away as “research.”

Patrick Marber

I spent last evening — which, like tonight, was cold and rainy — wrapped up on our living room love seat, reading two fantastic plays by a young British writer named Patrick Marber.

Angels in Phoenix

I’ll eventually get around to writing (much) more about this, but I want to mention quickly that, while vacationing in Phoenix, Joanna and I had the chance to see Tony Kushner’s Angels in America at the Herberger Theater.

Buried Child (1978)

With his return, Vince takes on his legacy, the house itself and the secrets buried around and within it. He also takes on its pain.

The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971)

As is the case when I watch Full Metal Jacket, I find Pavlo Hummel much more interesting when viewed in this light—as an examination of “the eternal human pageant,” that constant process of interaction, performance, and construction.

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (1992)

Note: These are my initial thoughts on Millennium Approaches, written as a journal assignment in the fall of 1998. I’m tempted to revise it or pull it down altogether, but I’ve decided to keep it up here as an artifact of sorts.

Fefu and Her Friends (1977)

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:

Man of Mode (1676)

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.

Nervous Conditions (1988)

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.