“I'm a firm believer in preaching to the converted.”—Tony Kushner
Home is where we hang our hats, and heaven hastens us to the backyard homeland—that’s a backyard
My adopted hometown of
In this frightfully democratic and thoughtfully thorough theater, heaven looks like
Kushner’s timeless play pursues the particular brand of theology where the Creator creates and then leaves the rest to us. In this worldview, God is either just chillin’ in the clouds waiting for us to figure it out or at least a little too nelly for the local chapter of Rambo Reverends.
Tony Kushner’s protagonist Prior Walter played here perfectly by Jimmy Rose is a reluctant prophet. At first, he just wants to banish the plague and bring his boyfriend back. He doesn’t particularly want to have celestial orgasms brought on by a hermaphrodite angel. But as dealing with the threat of death has dulled his sex drive, he doesn’t mind the hard-on that the angel gives him. With prophecy as erotic and ambiguous as this, no wonder some of the chosen might choose to refuse.
For the last three months, I have been meditating and reflecting and obsessing on this cultural moment at the Backdoor Playhouse. In fact, I’ve become a bit of an Angels in America groupie and faithful fan. I keep trying to maintain a critical distance on the production, but that’s a difficult thing. It embodies something huge and seductive and enduring in my chosen cultural and academic community.
I imagine that director Mark Creter has experienced a pleasant marvel at the lack of protest, the dearth of riot, the simple blessing that nobody tried to burn the Playhouse down. But then again, the house has never been completely full. Actually, I’m afraid that some of “the usual suspects” just didn’t show up. People we expected to see in the front row claimed "too busy" to be bothered with this shameless blend of buggery and beauty, blessing and blasphemy.
Tony Kushner admits he does not mind “preaching to the choir.” But what about those for whom this choir is a sinful cadre of sadly misled comrades? But the people who attended and were so distraught by divine debauchery that they ran for the exit before the final curtain—at least these folks tried. Frankly, I know of people who regularly flea to
The fact that this particular art is particularly gay—even queer—shouldn’t shed any light on the silence—and if it does, this says volumes about how far we still need to go and grow. In a situation such as this, angry reactions are a disturbing but healthy response—unlike the deafening silence of those who have “no comment.”
Kushner has also said he’d rather not be anointed as “the prophet,” but his profound interpretation of apocalypse and anger, of hope and change, of visionary forgiveness—this is nothing if not prophetic in 2008.
What was timely in the early 1990s is now timeless in ways we cannot afford to ignore. We wanted to preach to the choir, but the choir was small. There were others not quite ready for “Amen,” but they got the message anyways.
The members of the cast interact as if family. The performances exceed stunning. Awed by this crazy, small-town avant-garde going awesomely angelic, I return again. One of the cast members called me out as a “frequent flyer”; not ashamed, I actually want to “get” this play—this profound, prescient presence in the basement of the building where I teach on Monday afternoons.
Easily, I could continue with another review of each cast member and the integrity and honesty and sexy hopeful humor that each of you bring to the tragedy that is
Because even as Prior Walter and Tony Kushner reject being prophets, the power of their prophecy remains: we need a sweeter and softer and more sustainable democracy—not butch like Reagan and Bush, but lovingly brotherly like Whitman, Ginsberg, and Kushner.