NY Mirror

TONY KUSHNER—brainiac, activist, Pulitzer-winning playwright (Angels in America), and now bona fide movie star. He's the subject of FREIDA LEE MOCK's Wrestling With Angels—opening at Film Forum—which follows Tony on his creative and ethical mission, only to uncover what I already knew: God, he's terrific!

And honest too. "Freida's a really nice person and respectful of privacy," he told me by phone from London last week, "but it felt a little at times like being invaded. Then there were times I was really happy she was getting things she got—like moments of working on Caroline, or Change." You also see Kushner trying to stop voter fraud in Florida, inspiring graduates with a politicized yet funny commencement speech, and just being, you know, all-around faboo. You even catch a bit of Tony's hubby MARK HARRIS (EW's departing editor at large), but don't blink or look down. "He was very unwilling to do very much," said Kushner, "and I think he in a sense is nervous about the parts he appears in, though he's much more photogenic than I am and has a better public speaking voice." Yes, Tony's humble too.

But I like the guy best when he's all fired up, so I asked him—a true-blue (-state) rabble-rouser—about the campaign to diminish CLINTON's efforts to nab Bin Laden. "It's bullshit," he fumed, dropping all politeness, "and I think it's being received like the bullshit it is. There's no way to rewrite this history to make it a history of who did what before 9-11 happened.

Haunted mention: The "Nightmare: Face Your Fear" event
photo: Miles Ladin
Haunted mention: The "Nightmare: Face Your Fear" event

"Issues of security and intelligence gathering need to be examined," he went on, "but what really needs to be examined is what's been done since 9-11 and how to make us safer without turning into an imperial power or some country that's strayed so far from its origins that it's not America anymore. That has nothing to do with Clinton!" I would have stood and cheered, but it might have looked silly on the phone.

Luckily for him—and us—Kushner feels the stage is the perfect venue for political debate during wartime. "There's a real hunger on the part of the audience to get theater that goes to the heart of a time of terrible crisis," he said. "People want stuff that really grapples. The audiences for Mother Courage [which Kushner translated] were amazing, sitting through rain and cold to eat it up. They got the dilemma that Brecht is delineating—what to do in a murderous time."

I left Tony by telling him he's the new Betty Grable—giving people what they need in a time of crisis. Plus he's got nice legs.


MIRREN, MIRREN, OFF THE WALL

The New York Film Festival opened with HELEN MIRREN covering her knees (and emotions) in The Queen—not the famous drag pageant documentary, but a trenchant and funny look at Elizabeth II's obstinate dignity in her country's own dark period, after Princess Di's death. This will no doubt be followed by OLIVER STONE's flick in which the queen has Diana killed because she's pregnant with a Muslim baby.

At a press conference a few days earlier, screenwriter PETER MORGAN revealed that Idi Amin (the star of his other tyranny romp, The Last King of Scotland) visited Elizabeth once and told her he had come to England mainly because it was the only place where he could find size 14 shoes! What's worse, he called her Mrs. Queen! Morgan also talked about lead-footed TONY BLAIR, saying, "We couldn't do a hatchet job on him like we wanted to because this was his finest hour." As for size-14-eared PRINCE CHARLES, "His friends are really pissed off with the movie." But enough empathy is sprinkled all around the palace, and thin Lizzie comes off better than some of her predecessors. Said Morgan, "The most vicious queen was George IV!"

Downtown royalty lined up for the SHORTBUS party, which was capped with a 90-minute concert featuring virtually everyone who was in the movie and practically everyone who's seen it. THE WAU WAU SISTERS were dexterously hilarious doing lesbian calisthenics to "Sister Christian," and from the cast, the saucy BITCH and dreamy JAY BRANNAN drove my bus to heaven.

By the way, the late, unlamented Q TV—which tortured workers like me with lies about how we'd eventually get paid—executive-produced the movie! At the bash, an ex–Q exec unintentionally furthered the abuse by suggesting that Shortbus's profits might somehow be funneled into a plan to pay off those debts. Oh yeah, I'll be waiting by my mailbox with my tongue out.

In other dubious financial news, I hear AMANDA LEPORE is no longer Mrs. Queen. Her young boyfriend—supposedly some kind of Mott's apple heir—dumped her, but Amanda told me they simply broke up and it's for the best. One bad apple . . .

Meanwhile, STAR JONES swears her husband is not a fruit at all. But her legal threat to the Enquirer was idiotic to have stated that while Al, of course, isn't that way, the couple feels "everyone should be free to make their own choice concerning sexual preference." Ugh. Why do celebs trying to prove they're hetero always slip and use the C-word? Sexuality is not a choice, Star. Even a 12-year-old knows that. But being honest about it is!

And if there's "nothing wrong with being gay," blah blah blah, why are you instigating lawsuits? (Last time was a threat against PETA for using a drag queen, FLOTILLA DEBARGE, to mock you. You'll be happy to know that Flo recently landed in Rikers, having attacked someone with a high heel. I guess they cast those ads pretty well.) And isn't it weird that you're pulling a "This is not a sham" tantrum, considering your history with the subsidized wedding itself, not to mention your amazing diet plan?


HITTING BELOW THE BORSCHT BELT

I got my own angry letter—to the editor—last week when a Catskills resident critiqued my write-up of a gay event up there. All right, yes, I'm a bitch. But didn't I say the shebang was "sweet" and the Catskills gays were "creative"? More importantly, in the course of insisting how much gay pride there is upstate, did the guy really have to take pains to say "I'm heterosexual"? Oh, well, I guess that was his choice.

An even bigger humiliation came at a sneak peak of "Nightmare: Face Your Fear," a TIMOTHY HASKELL–created haunted house at CSV Cultural Center, based on polled New Yorkers' admissions of their 13 deepest phobias. (The other four boroughs have a Nightmare: Face Your Fear too, but I'm afraid to leave Manhattan to see them.) The brilliantly conceived spook house led you from dank room to dank room, each one dotted with people in surgical masks and blood-soaked aprons, forcing you to act out all your worst-case scenarios. Some of these motifs—fear of rats, clowns, and being home alone—were things New Yorkers confront every day, so that was no sweat. But once we were ordered to run on a shaky, strobe-lit ramp, then climb into a dark hole in the wall, I started crying and had to be escorted to the exit as one of the blood-soaked droogs generously dropped character and said, "That's OK, honey." Now I'm living with disadumbassophobia—a deadly fear of being made fun of for being a wuss.

I wussed out even harder by sniffling during A Chorus Line, the return of which proves that while people may want politics during wartime, they also crave safe revivals of their high-kicking favorites. The Pulitzer musical—about a Broadway audition run by a director probing for psychobabble—now shows some strain, especially since it's hard to believe that knowing these hoofers once shaved their sister's heads or got caught in drag by their father would help him decide if they should dance in his show. But the premise is simply that—a pretext for dazzling dancing and mini star turns, and even if the revival sometimes feels as freeze-dried as Walt Disney's head and the gay monologue wilts, it's all so lovingly done, I gave in and (to change one of the famous song titles) I felt everything.

But stop everything. Flotilla just took off her size 14 Payless shoes to call and say she's home and is "recuperating, desperately trying to get my strength and spirit back and drink some real water and eat some food." She was also preparing to go to the hospital to have her head x-rayed, "which they wouldn't do in prison." Her dark humor's intact, though. She announced herself as "Flotilla—or should I say LIL' KIM."


WEB EXTRA

I'm glad someone else is having a seizure besides me. I just tried to go to the club Avalon, but found the place boarded up, with a notice posted outside saying it's been "seized" because of non-payment of taxes. Don't people ever learn? Back when Avalon was called Limelight, owner PETER GATIEN was jailed and deported for non-payment of state tax! This is all very taxing on my nerves.

musto@villagevoice.com

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