Kushner wrote one undeniably great play, the epic two-part Angels In
America, but almost everything else of his I've seen has left me cold.
And I fear that this programme of five short pieces offers little to
change that imbalance.
comes intact from Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre with American director,
designers and cast. The five playlets range from light and trivial to
dark and serious, with the two at either end of the spectrum (and
either end of the evening) most successful.
off, 'Flip Flop Fly' imagines two minor twentieth century figures, the
American entertainer Lucia Pamela and the never-reigning Queen
Geraldine of Albania, meeting on the moon after their deaths. Although
both are imagined and played as cartoons, the hillbilly and the stuffy
dowager, the high spirits of the one eventually win the other over in
what amounts to a celebration of American optimism and self-invention.
built around a psychiatrist ending a patient's treatment, is little
more than a variant on the hoary shrink-is-as-crazy-as-client joke,
despite the clever incorporation of chunks of Shakespeare and the
ghostly presence of each party's lovers. 'East Coast Ode to Howard
Jarvis' is evidently an unproduced TV script here read and played by a
single actor, presenting as comedy the facts of a minor news story,
when a large number of New York City employees were caught cheating on
their income tax; and 'Dr. Arnold A Hutschnecker in Paradise' imagines
the psychiatrist who actually treated Richard Nixon while he was
President still kvetching about his patient in heaven and voicing his
opinion that it can all be traced back to an unloving mother.
all of these are
essentially over-extended jokes, the final piece is both serious and
powerful. Building on the fact that Mrs. George W. Bush frequently
created photo ops promoting literacy by reading in classrooms, 'Only We
Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy' places her in heaven where an
angel asks her to read to dead Iraqi children.
her to be an honourable and feeling woman, and the play generates some
sympathy for her as she struggles between her pity for the children and
her need to believe that what her husband did was right. Dostoyevsky is
dragged in a bit awkwardly (though Mrs. Bush is known to have read
him), with the Grand Inquisitor episode cited as a gloss on her - and,
by extension, America's - temptation to give up all moral
responsibility to their leaders, to save themselves the pain of making
the details of
the argument don't quite hang together, the play's sympathy for the
woman, and thus for a country that desperately needs to believe it is
doing right even when the evidence suggests otherwise, is a deeply
moving corrective to knee-jerk anti-Americanism.
Tony Taccone's direction is smooth and assured, and each of the four performers is given opportunities to display their strengths and versatility - Jim Lichscheidl (patient's lover and tax story), Valeri Mudek (Pamela, shrink's lover, angel), Kate Eifrig (Geraldine, shrink, Laura Bush) and J C Cutler (patient, Hutschnecker).
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- Tiny Kushner - Tricycle - 2010