Monday, May 9, 2011

One intelligent homosexual's New York weekend

The Hub Review headed south this past weekend, to that provincial little town (above) you may have heard tell of.  I only managed to catch two plays - Jacobi's Lear (which we'd caught previously via simulcast), and Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Marxism with a Key to the Scriptures. Both were powerful, and I'll write about both. I was surprised to discover that I may have actually enjoyed the Jacobi Lear more in HD than I did in person (for reasons I'll explain). But what has most been occupying my mind since my return is The Intelligent Homosexual, etc. Reviews in New York have been mixed, and the play is (very) far from flawless. Still, I have one of my hunches that it's a truly great play, and perhaps the greatest of the post-millennium era. Certainly in its ambition and scope it completely eclipses anything we've seen in years, and this cast - studded with long-time Kushner collaborators - is unlikely to ever be bettered (and due to the complexity and, yes, political obscurity of much of the material, the production is unlikely to tour). And while I hate to say it, I'm having trouble imagining a Boston cast that would be up to the demands of this particular play. Which I think means that if you care about Kushner, or even the (fading) dream of a rigorously challenging intellectual theatre, then you have to get yourself to the Public before June 12.


  1. how about these options:

    Gus - Dale Place or Will Lyman
    Clio - Adrianne Krstansky or Nancy Carroll
    M.T. - Dee Nelson, Paula Langdon, or Paula Plum
    Pill - John Kuntz
    V - Dan Roach or Daniel Berger Jones
    Maeve - Marianna Basssham or Dakota Shepard
    Eli - Karl Baker Olson or Alex Pollock
    Shelle - Georgia Lyman or Marianna Bassham
    Paul - Ed Barker or Johnny Lee Davenport
    Adam - Jerry Kissell or Steve Barkhimer
    Sooze - alright I am stumped here

    I am no casting director, and this is with limited views of script/blog/reviews but still there are a couple versions of the show there that I would buy tickets to here in the Hub.

  2. Maybe. Many of the people on that list could match individually what I saw in New York - so sorry if anyone took my post as a general diss of Boston actors (I don't feel that way at all). But would they gel as an ensemble, and would they "get" Kushner's vibe as deeply as the Kushner vets at the Public? And is there a local director with a really deep connection to Kushner's work? I think those are open questions. And then there's the fact that this is Kushner's densest text yet - and by a long shot, I'd say. Which means we're talking well over four weeks of rehearsal even for the pros on your list. Don't get me wrong - I'd pay to see Boston actors do "iHo," too. But I also think this is one of those rare productions that the HD simulcasts were made for.

  3. And remember - this play premiered in Minneapolis with the same cast so they have had some time to create an ensemble.


  4. Haven't seen the play or read the text yet, but a good number of the cast members that John suggests have worked together.

    Tom raises an interesting point though about whether there is a local director with a strong affinity for Kushner's work. The only Kushner I've seen locally in the last year or so was a student production of Hydriotaphia which is a terrific play, it's not as challenging a text as Angels or Homebody/Kabul.

  5. You know, I just want to re-iterate that what I am NOT saying is "New York actors can handle this, Boston actors can't." This cast is quite unique. It includes Linda Emond, the original Homebody of "Homebody/Kabul," and Stephen Spinella, the original Prior Walter of "Angels in America," as well as Todd Freeman, the original Belize of the LA production of "Angels in America" (before it came to New York). They are directed by Michael Greif, who has a long history with Kushner's work, actually stretching all the way back to the first Public Theater production of "A Bright Room Called Day." The cast has been working with the evolving script since 2009, so not only do they share an immense familiarity with Kushner, they have a similar level of familiarity and trust with each other. It would be very hard to replicate the atmosphere they conjure with even a luxurious four or five weeks of rehearsal in Boston.

  6. I saw it in New York and immediately thought, "This is a job for Trinity Rep." They could make it soar.

  7. Tom my comments were never meant to incite a riot of 'Locavore Frenzy'. (Though in some ways I am glad it did). You have always trumpeted the local talent in town and pushed it to new heights. When you said you couldn't imagine it taking shape here I wanted to give your imagination something to toy with for a minute.

    I couldn't agree more with the sentiment of ongoing collaboration and conversation between artists in the rehearsal room leading to masterpieces of theatre, and maybe what we are all taking issue with is the strategy of producing work around Boston. Because, you are right, in stating that this wouldn't be possible in a four week rehearsal approach. And it won't happen here until people start collaborating with the idea of developing a 'conversation' instead of a 'product' to sell to other markets. (And, yes, I know this is an incredibly idealistic naive notion to be profering, but didn't the largest of for profit theatres start at that naive place? And for my money the most engaging theatre has a taste of that good ole Garland and Rooney sentiment of 'My Uncle has a barn let's put on a show'.)

    I just think that the Boston area deserves a crack at iHo, if they are courageous enough, and if they choose to challenge their audience. So until our own Kushner emerges on the scene we've only got one unique voice in Mr.Tony and I want to believe that Boston can shift its focus and begin to believe in 'the (fading) dream of a rigorously challenging intellectual theatre' once again.

    So I'll keep reading because surely you’re the man who will find those conversations and get me out to participate in it. Thanks for the blog and for posting my additions to the blah blah blah.

  8. Just two thoughts all this has stirred:

    1) Boston theatre, though it often boasts as strong a professional finish as you could find anywhere, is nevertheless often intellectually disappointing. I've realized recently that I get a good deal more intellectual nourishment at the ballet or the opera than I do at the theatre. And that's just wrong.

    2) This discussion has reminded me of a funny little exchange I had with Robert Woodruff at the ART some years ago, when he was still artistic director there. I asked Woodruff why the ART had so rarely premiered new plays by our best playwrights. He kind of snorted and said, "Look, who's really worthy of writing for us? Tony Kushner maybe, but that's it." I snorted, too. "What makes you so sure you're worthy of Tony Kushner?" I asked him. To his credit, he didn't get upset; instead he looked at me and said, "You know, you're good; you're really good."

  9. Interesting:

    I don't think Woodruff ever tried to stage a Kushner play during his reign at ART, yet when I thought to check the website to make sure, I noticed that they've pretty much wiped their pre-Paulus production history from the official website (or at least hid it very well) and even the wikipedia page seems to have been wiped of nearly all but brief mention of the Brustein, Woodruff, and Lester years.

  10. My mistake. Lester's season is mentioned on Wikipedia.