Tony Kushner Drama Analysis
Tony Kushner has forged a new reputation as a spokesperson for change and progress during politically conservative times. In the early 1990’s, his seven-hour, two-part Broadway production of Angels in America transformed him from an unknown gay Jewish activist into the most promising, highly acclaimed playwright of his generation, who insisted on the power of theater to convey important truths. In this work, Kushner is concerned with the moral responsibilities of people during war and politically repressive times. He insists on political messages in all of his plays, opposing the popular notions that Americans do not like politics and that entertainment cannot be political. Although socialist politics and gay rights are not always mainstream topics, Kushner feels that artists need to be willing to take an issue that they feel passionately about and to address themselves to it extensively to build a consensus among groups. Kushner wants his plays to be part of a large political movement that teaches responsibility, honesty, social justice, and altruism. Kushner’s plays are dark and speak about death, but they are full of hope for future change. He does not back away from difficult and unpopular social issues.
A Bright Room Called Day
Kushner’s first important play was conceived during President Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984, but its historical setting is 1932-1933 in the Weimar Republic of Germany before World War II. A close group of friends lose track of each other as they are forced into hiding during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Kushner attempted to link the politics of Nazi Germany with the conservative Republican administration of Reagan, which caused many critics to complain about Kushner’s implicit comparison of Reagan to Hitler, the Nazi totalitarian. In one version of the play, a contemporary American character, Zillah Katz, moves to Berlin in the recently reunified Germany, where she lives in the apartment of Agnes Eggling, one of the original members of the German friends during World War II. Zillah and Agnes communicate to each other through dreams, though separated by forty years in time, and Zillah is inspired to political activism. Kushner raises the idea that all human actions are political.
Angels in America, Part One
This play initially came to life in a poem that Kushner wrote after finishing graduate studies at New York University. The poem was about gay men, Mormons, and the famous lawyer Roy Cohn. Originally conceived as a ninety-minute comedy, the play blossomed into two parts about the state of the United States and its struggles with sexual, racial, religious, and social issues such as the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) epidemic. Angels in America mixes reality and fantasy. Though it is filled with many different characters, Kushner designed Angels in America to be performed by eight actors each of whom plays several roles. This groundbreaking play focuses on three households in turmoil: a gay couple, Louis Ironson and Prior Walter, struggling with AIDS; another couple Harper Pitt and Joe Pitt, who is a Morman man coming to terms with his own sexuality; and the high-profile lawyer Roy Cohn, a historical person who died of AIDS in 1986. Cohn denied his homosexuality his whole life and persecuted gays. Cohn also helped Senator Joseph McCarthy persecute suspected members of the Communist Party in the 1950’s. The subtitle Millennium Approaches describes the impending doom that the character Prior feels when dealing with the deadly disease AIDS. Prior’s illness...
(The entire section is 1478 words.)