Tony Kushner's Family Drama: My Review

Categories: Theater

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In Tony Kushner's new play -- see title above -- even the hustler went to Yale.

His characters, as always, are whip-smart, tossing off erudite references to classic authors, even as they do dumb things worthy of characters in plays by those same authors.

The three-hour-25-minute-plus-intermissions work sprinkles in mentions of Chekhov, Seneca, Horace, and Mary Baker Eddy, and has struck people as inspired by O'Neill, Odets, and Arthur Miller, though to me it seemed a little reminiscent of 2007's August: Osage County by Tracy Letts.

In that one, a cantankerous family took to ripping each other apart after the disappearance of the father.

In Kushner's play at the Public, a family is torn apart because the father (Michael Cristofer) is fading out, having attempted suicide after struggling with Alzheimer's.

Dad is a one-time union leader who is losing his memory, but somehow can't forget the dark side of those days, while his pigheaded gay son and lesbian daughter are having relationship problems based on their own betrayal issues.

At various points in the play, they all sit around a table to chew each other out, while, symbolically enough, never eating. (Except for one character who brings her own trail mix. She's pregnant, so she must be life affirming. The rest are clearly vampires!)

And they do gladly indulge in a lot of screaming, confronting, and overlapping dialogue.

When they suddenly act caring, it doesn't necessarily convince.

Then they scream again. Then Molly Price has a terrific scene as a "self-deliverance" adviser detailing how to properly do oneself in without going to sleep too soon. Then the pace slows.

Did I mention that the house has a hole in the wall, and it keeps growing?

And can I call this a brilliant failure?

Kushner's writing has crackle -- there's a great monologue and some exchanges that catch fire -- and he's brave to make his work a spicy pepper pot of scholarly refs, biblical motifs, and ideological debate.

But while I stopped short at screaming "Kill yourself!" this is a work I admired without really liking.

And the title alone takes three hours and 45 minutes to say!



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8 comments
gerryvisco
gerryvisco

Michael, I really do like Tony Kushner and his work, but you are right. There are a number of flaws and slow moments in this play. I saw it in previews in Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater. The cast was great, some of the lines interesting, there are some good moments, but it is too long and his agenda is clunky. He also is a Jewish dude trying to write about Italian-American families but you're right --- where the hell is the lasagna? His sense of a Catholic family didn't feel at all familiar. The dad being a dock worker struck me as a 50s relic from "On The Waterfront." Is anyone a socialist dockworker nowadays? If so, they are NOT going to be like this family that seems more rarified Upper West Side. Kushner went to Columbia and I enjoyed his classical references but he should cut the play in half and stick with what he knows and cares about. This is a failed academic dramatic experiment that went on too long, with some good moments. Seems like it hasn't changed much from the previews. Thanks for the tip off!

Roofrack90
Roofrack90

" ...even the hustler went to Yale." Thank you for telling it like it is. This play is not over our heads. It's just not that good.

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Yeah, I guess smart is pretentious if you don't get it.

Michael makes it sound as if the play is challenging to the intellect.

That's bad?

At the end of "Caroline or Change," I had to be helped out of the theater -- by Kushner himself, as it happened -- I was sobbing so.

normadesmond
normadesmond

maybe he already shot his wad with A in A. i thought this was pretentious.

Dangle
Dangle

Characters are named "Pill" and "M.T." (Get it? Empty.) Oy.

KALALAUMANGO
KALALAUMANGO

And the title alone takes three hours and 45 minutes to say! --- HILARIOUS.

Lerv
Lerv

If he hadn't written "Angels in America," maybe this would have seemed better. But he did, so we know what he's capable of with better subject matter, editing, and structure.

Dar5
Dar5

As always, you nailed it.

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