In Tony Kushner‘s new play — see title above — even the hustler went to Yale.
His characters, as always, are whip-smart, tossing off erudite references to classic authors, even as they do dumb things worthy of characters in plays by those same authors.
The three-hour-25-minute-plus-intermissions work sprinkles in mentions of Chekhov, Seneca, Horace, and Mary Baker Eddy, and has struck people as inspired by O’Neill, Odets, and Arthur Miller, though to me it seemed a little reminiscent of 2007’s August: Osage County by Tracy Letts.
In that one, a cantankerous family took to ripping each other apart after the disappearance of the father.
In Kushner’s play at the Public, a family is torn apart because the father (Michael Cristofer) is fading out, having attempted suicide after struggling with Alzheimer’s.
Dad is a one-time union leader who is losing his memory, but somehow can’t forget the dark side of those days, while his pigheaded gay son and lesbian daughter are having relationship problems based on their own betrayal issues.
At various points in the play, they all sit around a table to chew each other out, while, symbolically enough, never eating. (Except for one character who brings her own trail mix. She’s pregnant, so she must be life affirming. The rest are clearly vampires!)
And they do gladly indulge in a lot of screaming, confronting, and overlapping dialogue.
When they suddenly act caring, it doesn’t necessarily convince.
Then they scream again. Then Molly Price has a terrific scene as a “self-deliverance” adviser detailing how to properly do oneself in without going to sleep too soon. Then the pace slows.
Did I mention that the house has a hole in the wall, and it keeps growing?
And can I call this a brilliant failure?
Kushner’s writing has crackle — there’s a great monologue and some exchanges that catch fire — and he’s brave to make his work a spicy pepper pot of scholarly refs, biblical motifs, and ideological debate.
But while I stopped short at screaming “Kill yourself!” this is a work I admired without really liking.
And the title alone takes three hours and 45 minutes to say!