Tony Kushner: New Essays on the Art and Politics of the Plays is an excellent addition to the growing body of criticism about this leading American playwright. Edited by James Fisher (whose earlier volume of essays, The Theatre of Tony Kushner: Living Past Hope is a comprehensive analysis and catalog of Kushner's work through 2000), this new volume's twelve essays offer fresh insights into both the individual plays and Kushner's overall writing career to date. The first four essays position Kushner in relation to an interesting array of gay and female twentieth century playwrights. In addition, there are two essays each for Angels in America, The Illusion and Homebody/Kabul, with other essays covering Caroline, or Change and A Dybbuk. One missing element in this collection is an essay on Slavs! An essay on this remarkable play could easily have taken the place of David Izzo's dull and overwritten article on Kushner, Auden and Isherwood, the only weak link in this otherwise excellent volume.
The standout offering in this volume may well be "When Worlds Collide" by Paula T. Akelson. Akelson offers a juicy production history of the Hartford Stage production of Kushner's adaptation of S. Ansky's A Dybbuk, directed by Mark Lamos. Her piece combines a scholarly analysis of Kushner's script and a thoughtful appreciation of the aesthetic principles and working practices of both Kushner and Lamos, along with all the gossip a theatre scholar secretly craves. Akelson also analyzes Brian Kulik's production of the play at New York's Public Theatre. This coda spotlights a very different collaboration between playwright and director and shows Kushner, the relentless "replaywright," happily at work revising his text. Akelson also provides an interesting look at how Kushner "queers" the text, not by adding explicitly gay material, but by highlighting the flexibility of identities and gender roles.
The theme of queer Kushner is further developed in Atsushi Fujita's powerful "Queer Politics to Fabulous Politics in Angels in America: Pinklisting and Forgiving Roy Cohn." By taking a close look at the character of Roy Cohn, Fujita examines how Kushner moves from the Theatre of the Ridiculous to the Theatre of the Fabulous. Kushner says that fabulousness occurs when anger and hatred are transformed into a vision for social change. Citing the moving epilogue to Angels, Fujita concludes that "fabulousness provides a field where one can argue theory and engage in practical activism at the same time" (126).
Another exciting offering is "Blood Relations" by Robert Vorlicky. Vorlicky, editor of the excellent Tony Kushner in Conversation, looks at the intersection between the works of Kushner and Adrienne Kennedy, who Kushner cites as a major influence on his work. He highlights their common interest in surrealism, history, and the creative process, as well as their powerful use of blood imagery. He also discusses Kushner's relationship to Suzan-Lori Parks, another writer deeply influenced by Kennedy's work. Hopefully, this rich essay can be developed into a longer piece.
Fisher presents two thoughtful essays on The Illusion, Kushner's free adaptation of Pierre Corneille's L'Illusion comique. In "Two Illusions: Cultural Borrowings and Transcendence," Felicia Hardison Londré regretfully notes that Kushner's adaptation is often praised at the expense of Corneille's original. Londré instead offers a spirited defense of both plays, expressing the hope that the fine adaptation [End Page 331] may lead readers back to the audacious original. In "Reading Corneille and Brecht: The Comedy of Illusion and the Illusions of Citizenship," Stefka Mihaylova details Kushner's materialist reworking of Corneille's comedy and offers interesting comparisons to Giorgio Strehler's 1984 adaptation of the same play.
As these highlights show, a strength of this volume is the wide range of topics covered—Kushner's career as both playwright and adapter and his relationship to his dramatic predecessors of the twentieth century and earlier. The essays are perceptive and thoughtful, a strong addition to the growing bookshelf of Kushner...