Tony Kushner, born in New York City and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was the middle child of William, a Juilliard-trained clarinetist, and Sylvia (Deutscher) Kushner, a bassoonist, one of the first American women to hold a chair with a symphony orchestra. Both nurtured young Tony’s interest in the arts.
In 1974, Kushner began attending Columbia University, graduating in 1978 with a B.A. in English literature. During these years, Kushner continued to struggle with his sexual identity and eventually shared his self-acceptance as a homosexual with his family. Fellow student Kimberly Flynn, a close friend, became a mentor for several of Kushner’s plays, especially his two-part masterpiece Angels in America (pr. 1991-1992).
Kushner greatly enjoyed the New York professional theater scene, read plays voraciously, and developed an interest in the works and theories of dramatist Bertolt Brecht. He enrolled at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, earning an M.F.A. in directing in 1984.
Kushner began writing plays in the early 1980’s and soon began winning significant national awards. One noteworthy early play is A Bright Room Called Day (pr. 1985), where Kushner likens the extreme conservatism of the Ronald Reagan era to Nazi Germany. A group of friends is gradually destroyed during Adolf Hitler’s terrifying rise to power, underscoring the need to combat evil and the price of inaction. Kushner reaches further back in time for his parallel subject matter in another early play, Hydriotaphia: Or, The Death of Dr. Browne (pr. 1987). Kushner’s dark and thoughtful comedy chooses Sir Thomas Browne’s last day on Earth to raise questions about death, its effect on others, and Americans’ capitalistic obsession with materialism.
Millenium Approaches, part 1 of Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, was produced in 1991 in San Francisco and became a huge Broadway success in 1993, winning the Tony...
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