HUMANITAS Winner Tony Kushner's Play Lands at Shaw Festival

Playwright. Theater critic. Vegetarian. Suffragist. Phonemic alphabet enthusiast. London School of Economics co-founder. And now “sentimental pseudo-socialist, peddling an idealist conception of history.”

George Bernard Shaw is known as many things in this quaint Canadian town, which features a life-size statue of him, gift shops packed with Shavian tchotchkes and a sprawling theater festival with his name on it. But this latest description comes from a playwright who just a few years ago would not have been welcome on the Shaw Festival stage — and not because of his impolitic statements.

That line comes within the first few minutes of Tony Kushner’s 2011 play “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures,” which begins previews here on Saturday in the festival’s Studio Theater. Clocking in at nearly four hours, it is perhaps the most naturalistic yet politically fixated, the most concerned with the government’s impact on both a single family and an entire economic ecosystem — in other words, the most Shavian — of Mr. Kushner’s plays.

“Kushner and Shaw both give ideas a human quotient,” Fiona Reid, one of the production’s stars, said while on a break from tech rehearsals. “And they both do it in a way that makes it sexy.”

Until 2002, “iHo” — as the play is frequently called — would have been far too contemporary for the Shaw Festival, which for decades confined its repertory to works written during its namesake’s lifetime. (Shaw died in 1950, six years before Mr. Kushner was born.) But the current artistic director, Jackie Maxwell, arrived just as the festival’s mandate had been expanded to include works that are set during Shaw’s lifetime or simply share his impulse to buck the status quo. She described the politically active modern playwrights who fit into the second category, among them Tom Stoppard and Caryl Churchill, as “contemporary Shavians.”

Still, the links between Shaw and Mr. Kushner may well run deepest. After all, the subtitle of Mr. Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes” refers directly to Shaw’s “Heartbreak House: A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes.” And the title to “iHo” is an even more direct homage, this time to Shaw’s nonfiction book “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism.”

“I thought it was a wonderful title,” Mr. Kushner said by phone of that 1927 work, which he found in his grandmother’s library after her death. “It’s not a wonderful book — I find it to be Shaw at his most tendentious and annoying — but it’s a great title.”

Read more at The New York Times: