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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
TINY KUSHNER
at the Tricycle

SUM OF ITS PARTS
By JOHN NATHAN

  Jim Lichtscheidl and JC Cutler/ Ph: Michal Daniel

No, it’s not a typo; it’s a joke. Not only does tiny sound a bit like Tony, but Tony Kushner is best known for very big plays, none bigger than his epic Pulitzer-winning Angels in America. These five one-act plays are very small. But that is not to say that collectively they do not pack a punch. In Tony Taccone’s Berkley Repertory Theatre production they induce a mood perhaps best described as playfully profound.
 
Flip Flop Fly!, for instance, resurrects and unites two dead women, Queen Geraldine of Albania (Kate Eifrig) and American entertainer Lucia Pamela (Valeri Mudek). In life they were continents apart geographically, and worlds apart culturally. In death, Kushner, godlike, plonks them both on the moon, stands back and, we can only assume, has a good giggle at the absence of chemistry between the lofty Queen and her afterlife companion. This is European gravitas meets shallow, if irresistible, American optimism. And on that level, the play is typical of the evening, which handles weighty themes with a light touch.
 
Terminating, (one of four titles) is possibly the most personal of the plays, and the first of two that puts psychiatry centre stage.
 
Set in an analysts’ consultation room, analyst Esther and her ex-patient Hendryk (JC Cutler) – both of them gay – have one last therapy session. Painful psychoses unravel, not just Hendryk’s, but Esther’s too. And there is more talking cure in Dr Arnold A Hutschnecker in Paradise, in which Nixon’s analyst (he really was) gets a few things off his chest with his confidant Metatron, the million-eyed recording Angel. Well, the author of Angels in America never was averse to leaping around the universe and the afterlife to get closer to a few truths.
 
With East Code Ode to Howard Jarvis, about a notorious tax fraud, we come back to earth with a bump. This was a teleplay originally written for Alec Baldwin, but which never made it to the screen. Jim Lichtscheidl brilliantly performs in monologue the entire script and its characters – from middle-age cops to teenage girls. Though hugely self-indulgent, it works well as a play for wannabe writers, revealing the structure and screen directions that stitch together scenes written by one of America's finest dramatists. More seriously, it manages to mention the point all tax evaders seem to avoid: How else do you build civilization, but with taxes?
 
There are no smarter evenings in London theatre at the moment and few that are funnier. Profundity is usually followed by the antidote of irreverence. Queen Geraldine may embody European seriousness, but her car was a wedding present from Hitler.
 
The tone changes with the final, now-notorious Laura Bush play, Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy. Once more we are in the afterlife, this time with George W. Bush’s wife reading The Brothers Karamazov to dead Iraqi children.
 
Written in anger, the piece could so easily have been agitprop. And so it is on one level. But Kushner portrays in Mrs Bush a conscience and a humanity that makes this a much more emotionally complex piece, and one that speaks of our as well as her guilt for actions undertaken in our name. Saddam was a bad man, but the fact that children died is the equation that we are forced to grapple with. And where Mrs Bush describes a scene from Dostoevsky’s novel in which Jesus plants a kiss on the murderous Grand Inquistor, she explains that it could be a kiss of death, love or lust. “We call this ambiguity,” she says, which will serve well to describe much of Tiny Kushner.
 


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