Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Kushner and Miller
The show I am in for another allied but competing theater company in Northeast is open and therefore I have my evenings back 3 or 4 nights a week. What to do with these free evenings I ask myself? I could spend them deep in thought or hanging around rehearsals for Bright Room (and I will get around to that I promise). I could do what I have done a couple of nights this month, go home and sleep. Sleep is such a sweet thing when you can do it in 10 hour stretches. I could watch TV, interesting fact there are no comedies on CBS except for CSI: Miami on Monday nights (it turns out that I may in fact be the only one who thinks CSI is funny whether in Las Vegas, Miami or New York). Or I can combine two missions into one and get cultured and spread the word about Rorschach, which is what I did on Monday Night.
Monday morning I read a little blurb on Potomac Stages regarding a discussion being held with Tony Kushner that night. He was out promoting the first volume of an anthology of Arthur Miller's plays. Now I am not a rocket scientist, but I did think about becoming a brain surgeon for about a week in 1993, so I knew someone from Rorschach had to be at that event promoting Bright Room. For once I was the person with both the time and inclination. So I made me up a promo flier using a photo of Lindsay Allen from A Clearing in the Woods and made my way over the Avalon Theater on Connecticut Ave., which by good luck was a short bus ride and walk from where I work on Wisconsin.
I left work, dithered at the Borders and then made my way cross town to the theater, arriving my usual two and a half hours early. I wanted to scope the place out, get my ticket, eat some meal and read on a bench in front of the theater. The folks sponsoring the event, Politics and Prose had set up a table out in the lovely night air and I was one of the first people to lay down my $13 for a ticket. And then I worked my charm with the fliers. I spoke to the manager and asked in my sweetest voice, which isn't so much sweet as less bitter, if it would be possible to place the fliers on their table? He thought for a moment and then said sure. McGyver-ing up a little display stand out of some rubber bands and hunks of card board to make sure they wouldn't blow away in the warm breeze, I placed my cargo on the will-call table and made my way to a nearby bench. This was around 6:45 pm with the main event taking place at 8:15.
I watched as people arrived and picked up the fliers, which were good for 2 for 1 tickets for the first week of the run. I had made about 150 of the things and about half of them were gone when I went into the space around 8:00. Success, all I had to do now was go into the theater and enjoy.
Tony Kushner is without a doubt one of my favorite playwrights. Ever since Rorschach did The Illusion and seeing a college production of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, I have loved his style, use of language and his ability to call out social injustice. Seeing him live was a personal joy and I will only hit some of the high points of his talk.
He was there to discuss Arthur Miller, a playwright who without is one of America's greatest writers. Even if he had only written Death of a Salesman, he would have earned his place in the firmament of great writers. Kushner had been asked to take on the duties of editing these volumes of Miller's works and recounted the first time he met the man. It was at the 1994 Tony Awards they were both up for Best New Play that year, Kushner for Angels in America: Perestroika and Miller for Broken Glass. 1994 was a great year for plays by the way the other two nominees were The Kentucky Cycle by Robert Schenkkan and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith. Kushener was seated behind Arthur Miller and kept staring at the back of Miller's head and thinking that is where Willy and the Lowmans live. His deep respect for Miller was quite clear as he was recounting this story.
He included Miller in the Big Three of American Drama, O'Neill and Williams making up the balance. He said he would like to expand that to the Big Five and include Albee and Sondheim as well, for what they have done for theater. He also counts Death of a Salesman among the three greatest plays in American Literature, the other two being Long Days Journey Into Night and A Street Car Named Desire. He expressed how as a student he had rejected these playwrights, being in love with writers like Ibsen and Brecht. It wasn't until he grew older that he began to realize the work and it value. He said that even Brecht expressed a grudging respect for Death of a Salesman.
Most of the rest of the evening focused on the work of Miller and the qualities of the work that make Miller a great writer. At one point he mentioned that some people wonder what would have happened if Miller hadn't married Marilyn Monroe. Kushner said that is a stupid question, he said I'm gay and I would have married Marilyn Monroe, who wouldn't. No argument here.
The evening wore down and eventually the middle aged couple and students lined up with their copies of the book for Tony Kushner to sign. I had to wonder if having a copy of Arthur Millers plays signed by Tony Kushner isn't like having a picture of Sean Connery autographed by Roger Moore. I am not comparing the two I was just wondering?