Why Politics and Purity Don't Mix
An interview with playwright and radical gadfly Tony Kushner
Forget throwing paint at Starbucks. If you want to be a real revolutionary, try (gasp!) attending a political meeting. That's just one bit of controversial advice Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner doles out in this passionate interview from Heeb magazine. How do we survive the 21st century? According to Kushner -- who believes we are living in "absolutely the worst, most dangerous moment the human race has ever faced" -- the answer lies not in Ralph Nader or in the Green Party (or in the type of protest he describes as "performance art"), but in that most venerable -- and to some, stale -- of all institutions: the Democratic Party. -- The Editors
Tony Kushner hustles into his office clasping a cell phone in his left hand and shuffling a manuscript in his right. The nylon backpack hanging from one shoulder bears a pin reading "Preemptive War IS Terrorism." He's talking on his phone with author Grace Paley, discussing her contribution to an anthology about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he's editing. "I think it's magnificent. I wouldn't change a thing," he gushes, mouthing sorry to his assistant and just one more minute to the writer and photographer who have been awaiting his arrival. "Except there's this part where you say, 'And the American Jewish community says it's okay.' But it's not simply that we're saying the Israeli occupation is okay; we're paying for it! That seems relevant to me. You don't have to change it if you don't want to, but it's something that occurred to me."
Kushner's combination of exacting political analysis and broad artistic vision first earned him wide acclaim in 1993 and 1994 with his play Angels in America (Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika). That two-evening epic about AIDS, Reaganism, illness, and betrayal led to a Pulitzer Prize, two Tony awards, a recent HBO adaptation -- and a lifetime supply of daunting expectations. Following the success of Angels, Kushner became America's leading left-wing gay pundit, tapped by Newsweek, The Nation, The New York Times, and The Advocate to hold forth on issues from homophobia to socialism. But his subsequent ventures on the dramatic front were comparatively diminutive: Slavs!, a slender rumination on the failures of Soviet communism, an adaptation of Brecht's The Good Person of Szechuan, and another of the Yiddish theater classic The Dybbuk. Some friends grew concerned that he was using essays and college speaking tours as ways to avoid writing another ambitious play.
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