Winner of two Tony Awards, three Obies, an Emmy and a Pulitzer Prize, Tony Kushner probably remains best known for "Angels in America," his two-part epic play that involves love, loss, Mormonism, Valium addiction, imaginary trips to the Antarctic, drag queens, and characters from real life (including Roy Cohn, the chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy's Senate investigations in the 1950s and Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed for treason). And, of course, an angel.
So it's no surprise that Kushner's latest play, at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre for its West Coast premiere, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures," (his husband nicknamed it "iHo") also features big ideas, politics, religion, and lots and lots of argument in the story of three siblings whose father, a communist retired longshoreman in Brooklyn, threatens to commit suicide."There's a struggle in the play between despair and hope and between a belief in progress and a belief in revolution at the center of it," Kushner said. "It's a family drama, and it's a pretty unhappy family." Kushner, who was out at the Berkeley Rep recently, getting ready for an afternoon rehearsal, says people don't need to be experts on capitalism, socialism or scripture to enjoy the play. "You don't need to know anything at all," Kushner said. "If you just come and don't panic and listen, you'll be fine. We've all worked very hard to make sure people are taken care of." Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for Lincoln (as well as Munich), not surprisingly spends a lot of time thinking about politics, particularly left wing politics, and that comes out in the play. That some leftists spend so much time criticizing the government rather than putting their energy into tangible things like getting control of Congress frustrates him. Kushner said:
"Unless you really have belief there is going to be some kind of revolution that overturns the U.S. government and gives us something better, and no one who isn't psychotic could really say that that's likely, we have to start to think about what the fantasy of revolution is. I don't mean to belittle it by that. It's a dream and it has immense power, and I hope this comes across in the play -- it's not dismissible and it's not negligible, but in terms of a theoretical basis that guides us into action why we don't recognize how often electoral processes and a functioning democratic government has brought us to radical transformation is incomprehensible to me."Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep's artistic director, directs "iHo," and Kushner said he has been enjoying working again with his long time collaborator who co-directed of 1992's Angels in America. Kushner calls Taccone fearless, openhearted and open-minded with no sentimentality. When he and Taccone worked on the children's opera, "Brundibar," which was originally performed in the concentration camp Terezín -- at the last minute -- Kushner wrote a curtain raiser about the smuggling of the score into the camp. Taccone made the decision to go with it, something most people would have rejected as too risky, Kushner said. "We did it, and it was fantastic," Kushner said. "There's a part of him that loves shutting his eyes and holding his nose and jumping into space. Things like that, it's thrilling. So I love working with him."