Earlier this week, we began rehearsals for Tony Kushner’s thrilling new masterwork, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures. I want to share with you my own opening remarks to the company of amazing actors, designers, staff and supporters, and our always extraordinary partner in art, director John Vreeke. But first let’s hear from John, and productions designers Misha Kachman and Ivania Stack. Here’s a video peek from our first day of rehearsals:
To see the video, click here.
Opening Welcome Remarks, from the Artistic Director:
As concerned as we are with the clock [because we want to make sure we get to the end of this play before 11:00 and it’s 6:15 now and we’ve got presentations and breaks to account for, so I’ll talk in a hurry]
It’s important that we lead with our love; how it leads to why we’re here
That we open with passion in presenting our purpose:
Which is to bring a great thing-—this thing called I-HO—-to life.
To do justice to a great mind, a brilliant voice, and bring this fabulously fractious family into vivid relief as they say try to goodbye to each other
while trying to save each other
from the shattering loneliness of losing; losing the battle, losing memory…
while striving to renew their union (to each other).
Some quick context about why we’re here — about what this play is doing here of all places?
This first question:
Do you remember where you were when you first encountered Angels in America?
You were younger, I’ll bet.
So was Tony Kushner. In Angels, Tony wrote, as a young gay renegade, brilliant and better than anyone.
What was your first impression of Angels?
[That’s the prompt for our student theater-goers—To respond to the blast of reading Angels for the first time. Or alternately, talk about reading Homebody/Kabul, so near and dear to Theater J-goers’ hearts.]
Reading Angels the first time, for me, was like experiencing a sock to the solar plexus — I’ll never forget–riding the M-5 on the edge of Harlem and Central Park North, reading Part I in American Theatre Magazine (on my way to my first shrink), 1991…
ROY: “It’s a great time to be in Washington, Joe.
JOE: Roy, it’s incredibly exciting!
ROY: And it would mean something to me; you understand?
JOE: “I can’t say how much I appreciate this, Roy. I’m sort of… Well, stunned, I mean. Thanks, Roy. But I have to give it some thought. I have to ask my wife.
ROY: …Your wife. Of course—
JOE: But I really appreciate—
ROY: Of course. Talk to your wife.
Kushner means many things to so many of us. In that one selection, He slayed me, and I was bleeding. Playwright Donald Margulies told me that same year: “Tony’s pushed back the goal posts. For all of us.” Tony rewrote the theatrical rule book, raised the bar; heightened the discourse, to reach the stratosphere.
Tony K revitalized and then more profoundly revolutionized the American stage and then the world stage with his epic. And nothing more need be said here tonight about the legacy of that diptych, or of the untold ways Tony’s built up and out from the foundations of that masterwork to continue to astound, renew, and evolve. That’s our theme here: The Revolutionary who became evolutionary. And the life-long adherents he made of those he’d once slayed in the process.
What I’m saying is… Tony became even greater. Improbably. He grew.
This theater first met Tony Kushner in 1999 when we presented the very first reading of Caroline: Or Change. And we co-produced the first DC production of Homebody/Kabul (directed so brilliantly by Mr. Vreeke) in 2003.
Making friends with the middle aged Kushner is quite unlike encountering the high-flying wizard. The Tony we’re befriending here is the same genius writer, still shimmering, but weighed down by realism; of life and relationships and the realization of everyone’s limits; even his own.
Tony was once full of ridicule for the theater so many of us loved — the theater of Miller — it represented something to overthrow — even as it resonated so personally for Tony… (his mom, after all, played Linda Loman in a Lake Charles production of Death of a Salesman when Tony was 6). I took the snub personally.
Now Tony’s written this homage… Here’s TK (in Jspace):
“When I was a much younger writer, I was somewhat critical of O’Neill and of Miller. I was always a fan of Williams because he was gay and he was southern and I found him and the lyrics of his writing gloomy, powerfully. But with Arthur and with O’Neill, both writers that I now revere, when I was 18 or19 I was really scornful. Probably some sort of Oedipal thing going on. But they seemed corny to me and individualist and I was very much looking at everything through the eyes of Brechtian theory and not impressed….
As I started to write plays, I reread “Salesman” and “View from a Bridge” and there’s a magnificent sort of erratic construction in these works. They serve as the greatest structure of dramatic events this country’s ever produced. And I think in terms of social advocacy, Arthur is important as a model in two ways. In one way because he doesn’t write polemic, he writes drama, which is really different. And the plays are not plays that present problems and provide answers for those problems, they’re deeper and more complicated and more tortured than that. That’s when they’re at their best. And as it progresses, they become more and more what we would call personal, and less and less obviously political.
At the same time Arthur used his immense fame for social good. He was a brave, tireless fighter, a scrupulous and courageous public intellectual, an advocate. Those are important things. I think he remains the luminous example of a writer as a citizen. It’s always good to have role models and certainly for me, when faced with a choice between doing something political and doing something that I really enjoy doing, I say to myself, “What would Arthur Miller do?” I knew him a little bit but not well, but the Arthur in my head is a very interesting and valuable figure.
In 2011, Tony went on tour to unveil the Library of America multi-volume series of the collected plays of Arthur Miller, which Tony had taken edited, taking over from the late Mel Gussow. Tony was paying back to his elders.
He’s writing a musical about O’Neill (with Jeanine Tesori). He’s paying back.
And he’s been saying goodbye to his father, whom he buried during the course of refining this play. It’s so unbelievably personal. To all of us now.
So many of these relationships are elemental in nature — archetypal; even as others are downright improbable or, even inappropriate. If you’ve ever been in love with someone you shouldn’t be, for any number of reasons, the affair between Pill and Eli(made electric and awful by the involvement of money) is something you’ll recognize…
If you’ve ever been exasperated by a parent whom you love, whom you have to leave… you’ll see yourself.
And you’ll see iconic figures aplenty here. The first great American family drama, Awake and Sing (running up at Olney through the weekend) features a 70-something would-be revolutionary who, so despairing for the state of revolutionary politics in America, that he contemplates, suicides, tries it, and succeeds.
Gus Marcantonio is Jacob–exactly 70 years later…
A revolutionist battles evolutionary theory and is left to wonder: who’s the biggest loser?
As our actor Tom Wiggin shared yesterday in a pre-rehearsal get-together, “Gus is choosing between The Struggle and His Children.”
But what happens, I countered, when the children are disappointments, and don’t march as comrades in the same direction, or with the same directiveness?
Communion — fellowship — solidarity — This is the wellspring running deep through this work.
So may it bind us and inform us, and carry us through—to a revitalized, shimmering new place.