News Column

Playwright Tony Kushner chosen to speak at Texas Tech

October 22, 2013


Oct. 22--Tony Kushner, New York playwright, screen writer and sometimes philosopher, has been chosen to speak at a session of the Texas Tech Presidential Lecture and Performance Series at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, in the Allen Theatre.

Kushner eschews monologues, however, and likes to open his speaking engagements to a question-and-answer format that could be described as public conversations. He isn't reticent about the fact that he is politically to the left of center.

In a recent phone interview with the Avalanche-Journal that he conducted from the back of a cab in New York, he said of the Texas Tech event, "I like not to know ahead of time what the interviewers are going to ask me, and they can ask anything they want, and I respond. So, it will be politics, I hope. I'm excited to be going to the home state of Ted Cruz."

Referring to U.S. Sen. Cruz, who represents conservative constituents, he said, "Right now, I'm feeling, as I hope everybody is, really deeply post-traumatic about what just happened in Washington."

He rails at "Reaganism," and maintains, "The current ideology to which Texas has made such a terrifying contribution in recent years -- that government is an evil thing that has to be reduced to its absolute smallest size, almost effectively dismantled -- is a dreadful mistake."

His career has revolved around writing, and he grew up in a home where his parents were professional musicians.

"I think I always wanted to be a writer. My father was a great lover of literature and had an incredible memory for poetry. He paid us a dollar for every poem we memorized as kids. We lived in a house that was floor-to-ceiling books everywhere."

Kushner sometimes speaks more like a philosopher than the accomplished writer that he is, and he often searches for the meaning of life.

"The reason that we write and the reason that we read, I think, has something to do with trying to extract meaning from life," he said.

"We have an intuition, or possibly a religious conviction or a philosophical conviction that life contains some kind

of meaning. Everybody wants to assign some kind of purpose to existence. So, we read and we write, because it's a time-proven and very effective way to examine life and to try to understand it and try to get at something that feels like it might conceivably be truth."

His most successful play, for which he received a Pulitzer prize, has been the controversial "Angels in America," a work that he refers to as the first completely openly gay play.

"I didn't write the play to cause controversy. I'm a gay man," Kushner said, and describes himself this way:

"I'm a gay man, I'm a Jewish-American man, I'm a progressive person, I'm a person of the American political left."

He added, "I was in my mid-20s at the beginning of the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, and I wrote the play in my late 20s and early 30s when I was trying to process what had happened to the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community because of the biological calamity of AIDS -- and the rather astonishing and heroic way that we had responded to that catastrophe.

"I was also aware that something radical had happened to the American body politic -- the Reaganism -- and I think I was completely right about this, that we were heading down a very dark and dangerous path with what seemed to me a pernicious ideology and a coalition of libertarians and theocrats that made no sense whatsoever.

"We were in a lot of trouble, the democracy was in trouble. And that's what I wrote the play about. It's a complicated play and people get all sorts of things from it."

According to Kushner, he and the audience at the Texas Tech Presidential Lecture and Performance event will talk about other things also. "We'll talk abut theater, we'll talk about movies, we'll talk about whatever people want to ask."

In recent years, Kushner has been working with Steven Spielberg on films such as "Munich," which deals with the murder of Israeli athletes at the Olympics.

"He's amazing, he's creative, he's imaginative, and he's a serious artist because of his enormous popular success. Certainly one of the most successful film directors in history. But I think people sometimes overlook how complicated and really rich his films are -- they are serious works of art. He's also, I think, one of the great narrative minds in human history, someone who really figured out a whole new language for telling a story in film."

Kushner is a fan of film, and sometimes looks back over his shoulder at favorite films made in the past. Surprisingly, one is the Western, "Shane."

"It is a Western, but so much more than a Western. It's really one of the best movies I have ever seen. It's just astonishing and complicated, and magnificently written and magnificently filmed. It's subtle, and something everybody ought to watch."

Another movie he mentions is "The Best Years of Our Lives."

"It is William Wyler's film about veterans returning from the war and the difficulties. This was right at the end of World War II. It stars a disabled veteran, a man who lost his hands and won the Oscar for his performance.

"Those two movies are not my two favorite movies on earth, but they are two very great works of art. I think Criterion is about to release a new, sort of restored version, of 'Shane.' "

He added, "I'm very excited about coming to Lubbock, and I look forward to the conversation."

-- 766-8711

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