Seattle Times Interviews HUMANITAS Winner Tony Kushner


kusher-mainIn the late 1980s, the young writer Tony Kushner began work on his second play: a theatrical epic about AIDS and homophobia, race and morality, religion and spirituality, Reaganism, love and abandonment, and much, much more.

Kushner’s two -part marathon “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” eventually reached Broadway in 1993. Both full-length parts (“Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika” ) won glowing reviews.

Imaginative and erudite, dialectical and emotionally accessible, the saga had its Seattle premiere at Intiman Theatre, in two chunks, in 1994 and 1995. This week, Intiman opens its 20th anniversary edition, staged by artistic director (and Kushner ex-aide) Andrew Russell.

Much has changed for Intiman in 20 years. In 2011, the long-respected, year-round theater had a near-death financial crisis, relinquished control of its Seattle Center playhouse, and reinvented itself in 2012 as an annual summer theater festival. “Angels” is the intrepid company’s most ambitious show since the shift.

The Tony, Emmy and Pulitzer-honored, politically outspoken Kushner has moved on too. He’s penned the Steven Spielberg films “Lincoln” and “Munich,” the HBO TV-movie “Angels in America,” the powerful Broadway musical “Caroline, or Change.” A new play, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures,” was aired recently in Berkeley, Calif.

But “Angels” remains a signal, singular and international phenomenon. It entwines the engrossing struggles of two couples (a conservative gay lawyer and his delusional wife, and a gay man dying of AIDS and his faithless male lover), with the fates of a power-drunk Republican wheeler-dealer, and a Mormon mother forced to change with the times. It also has some spectacular fantasy sequences, and much mordant humor.

In a recent Seattle Times interview, Kushner shared his thoughts about “Angels,” then and now. Here are some excerpts:

Q: Why did you set out to write a play with an AIDS theme?

A: I didn’t. I set out to write about what it was like to be me, a gay man in New York, in the mid-1980s, and it was not possible to do that without placing it in the middle of the epidemic. It also seemed like there was a huge shift in the political climate with President Reagan. The world I was born into was receding and something new and rather terrifying was taking its place.

Q: Did you intend the play to run seven hours?

A: I was contracted by the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco to write a two-hour play ... I had an outline with the entire plot in two acts and one intermission. But the characters kept doing things they weren’t supposed to. The problem with outlining is that you don’t actually know yet who these people are. You learn who they are by writing about them.

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UncategorizedJosh Neimark