The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…
By Tony Kushner
Directed by Tony Taccone
Main Season · Roda Theatre
May 16–June 29, 2014
West Coast Premiere
Running time: 3 hours and 45 minutes, including two 15-minute intermissions
Winner of two Tony Awards, three Obies, an Emmy and a Pulitzer Prize, Tony Kushner returns to Berkeley Rep for the West Coast premiere of his latest play: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. With his trademark mix of soaring intellect and searing emotion, the legendary playwright unfurls an epic tale of love, family, sex, money and politics—all set under the hard-earned roof of an Italian family in Brooklyn. When Gus decides to die, his kids come home with a raucous parade of lovers and spouses to find that even the house keeps secrets. Kushner reunites with one of his favorite collaborators, Michael Leibert Artistic Director Tony Taccone, to bring this sweeping drama to the Roda Theatre.
Tony Kushner · Playwright
Tony Taccone · Director
Christopher Barreca · Scenic Design
Meg Neville · Costume Design
Alexander V. Nichols · Lighting Design
Jake Rodriguez · Sound Design
Amy Potozkin · Casting Director
Calleri Casting · Casting Director
Michael Suenkel · Stage Manager
Megan C. McClintock · Assistant Stage Manager
Kit Stølen · Assistant Scenic Design
Mina Morita · Assistant Director
Ben Kaplan · Assistant to Mr. Kushner
Julie Wolf · Music Consultant
Tina Chilip · Sooze
Randy Danson · Clio
Anthony Fusco · Adam
Jordan Geiger · Eli
Tyrone Mitchell Henderson · Paul
Lou Liberatore · Pill
Deirdre Lovejoy · Empty
Mark Margolis · Gus
Joseph J. Parks · Vito
Robynn Rodriguez · Shelle
Liz Wisan · Maeve
“You know you’re in the hands of Tony Kushner when the characters are wrestling with big ideas in fraught situations, the laughter is plentiful and you leave feeling smarter than you were before. Such is the case with the West Coast premiere of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures…It’s a richly rewarding and stimulating experience.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Director Tony Taccone manages to deliver a nearly four-hour production that is never dull (I’ve seen many shorter plays that seemed much longer) and is, by turns, exasperating, fascinating, gripping and, in moments, mind blowing. Taccone’s long relationship with Kushner stretches back to the commissioning of Angels, and it seems Taccone is exactly the right director to layer Kushner’s word- and intellect-rich script with reality and theatricality…It’s challenging and rewarding in equal measure. And it’s funny.”—Theater Dogs
“Kushner has an ingenious collaborator in Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone…Crafting the massive ache of the play’s emotional tornado requires deftness and dexterity: Taccone has both.”—SF Weekly
“Thrilling…His genius stems from his ability to illuminate ideas that might seem impossibly unwieldy to lesser minds…The playwright locks horns with the essential questions of class, history and politics that have always anchored his work. Only this time the narrative is an almost four-hour family drama that echoes Arthur Miller and Anton Chekhov but is uniquely Kushnerian in its marriage of poetry and politics. In its long-awaited West Coast premiere at Berkeley Rep, it’s an astonishing achievement that’s as thrilling and provocative as it is challenging…As ever, Kushner leaves you with your heart in your mouth and your mind on fire—and that’s priceless.”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group
“Berkeley Rep’s artistic director Tony Taccone’s almost 40-year history with Tony Kushner (he commissioned Kushner’s Angels in America) has led to Taccone’s expert understanding of Kushner’s works. In addition to Taccone’s talent, Kushner’s creative genius, a marvelous cast of actors, especially Mark Margolis and Deirdre Lovejoy, and an outstanding scenic design by Christopher Barreca, all combine to leave audience challenged, fascinated, excited and wanting more.”—Berkeleyside
Prologue: from the Artistic Director
Tony Kushner is an intrepid explorer. Armed with only a stack of notebooks and a small arsenal of fountain pens, he makes his way through the vast landscape of American history, seeking to identify dramatic moments of revelatory transformation. Every one of his plays (and screenplays!) focuses on titanic change, times when the oppositional forces of human exchange erupt into chaos and cacophony. Into material conflict. Into the thrill and terror of revolution. There in that vortex Mr. Kushner dwells, sifting through the onslaught of voices, of characters demanding the stage, listening to the breathing of history. And after he’s listened long and hard, after he’s immersed himself in the past so thoroughly that he can re-imagine the present, he unleashes his mighty pen and sets out to capture the motion of the world as it hurls forever forward.
It is, ultimately, an impossible task. The world is far too complicated for any single person to fully comprehend. And yet, a small group of people seems to come astonishingly close. Mr. Kushner is one of those people. His capacity to describe the interrelationship of human thought and behavior within the shifting forces of social and economic upheaval is nothing short of astonishing. In iHo, (the friendly nickname given to the play by the playwright’s husband), his interests include the nature of change, Italian-American political history, the explosive real estate market, the fracture and re-bonding of families, and sex as an expression of desire, alienation, value, and identity. Oh, and theology…All of these interests are channeled through the lives of a single family living in Brooklyn in 2007, a family grappling with the very meaning of life.
iHo was produced several years ago at the Guthrie Theater and immediately moved to The Public Theater in New York. While the play was embraced as a significant piece of work, Tony felt he had not completed the job. Paul Valéry famously once said that “a work of art is never completed, only abandoned.” Much to my delight and, I hope, your pleasure, Tony chose not to abandon iHo. He has significantly re-worked the text, working feverishly to deepen relationships and vivify ideas. Tonight you will see the results of his labors and the effort of the entire creative team to realize the play’s ambitions. We have the great advantage of knowing that our audience here in Berkeley is up for every challenge, and that Mr. Kushner has, in a real way, come home.
Prologue: from the Managing Director
This has been a year of many firsts for us here at Berkeley Rep. Of most import were the firsts on our stages. We began the season with those astounding fellows Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, whom we affectionately referred to as “the sirs,” in No Man’s Land, which was given its first production here before heading to Broadway. Marcus Gardley’s The House that will not Stand, which emerged from our Ground Floor new play development program, premiered here before going on to a second production at Yale Repertory Theatre. We also produced our first show in the new Osher Studio, bringing Brian Copeland’s Not a Genuine Black Man back for its 10th anniversary. And while The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures certainly isn’t the first play by Tony Kushner we’ve produced, it’s been a long time since we’ve had the pleasure of his company, as he’s been in residence during much of the rehearsal process for this production.
It was a year of firsts in a host of other ways. This year we introduced open captioning for at least one performance of all of our shows in an experiment to determine whether there is enough audience interest to justify an ongoing program. We opened the new bar in the old costume shop off the courtyard. We’re giving ourselves some time to figure out how we’ll program the space, but already patrons and staff are enjoying having a place to kick back and kibitz before and after a show. We’ve introduced new classes at our School of Theatre, continuing to expand the range of offerings for adults as well as teens and children. You probably noticed that instead of tearing your ticket at the door, we now scan it so that we can give you better service. We’ve experimented with other new uses of technology, new ways of working, new tools for problem solving, and new ways of improving the experience of artists and audiences here. And thrillingly, with over 18,000 subscribers, this was the first season in which almost every production was extended to meet the unprecedented ticket demand, resulting in what we believe will be the highest attendance in our history.
While Berkeley Rep has always appreciated and valued our historic roots, as evidenced by our return again and again to great plays from the past, we also recognize the importance of opening ourselves up to the future. Maybe nothing exemplifies that impulse more than The Ground Floor, where we incubate new plays and support longtime colleagues like Anna Deavere Smith and Lisa Peterson (co-author and director of last year’s An Iliad) while simultaneously supporting young artists whose work has yet to become mainstream. The impulse behind The Ground Floor is something that we try to replicate throughout our Theatre. Whether it is in our technology, or in our development, marketing, or production departments, we are committed to infusing the entire Theatre with the spirit of experimentation and curiosity that drives our artistic programming.
We still have one non-subscription production to open, Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro, but we are rapidly moving toward the conclusion of the 2013–14 season. It is satisfying to look back at our many firsts—and yet we’re already looking toward 2014–15 for what new things lie ahead. I hope you’ll be a part of the grand experiment.
Coffee with Kushner
By Catherine Steindler
Few writers alive today can be spoken about with the level of reverence that is reserved for Tony Kushner. In his impressive career, he has received a Pulitzer Prize, been nominated for two Academy Awards, and was awarded with the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. Kushner, never one to be short on words, met with Catherine Steindler to shed some light on his process, between his office in Manhattan and a café in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Catherine Steindler: You’ve played with illusion and reality quite a bit in your plays.
Tony Kushner: Whatever else is going on onstage and whatever else people are learning and experiencing in the course of a play, they’re always being taught critical consciousness by the inadequate illusion. That’s why I wanted to go back to the theatre of illusion with Angels and have magical things happen. When we did it at the National [The National Theatre in London], Richard Eyre [the artistic director at the time] was concerned that the angel wasn’t flown in on thin, nearly invisible wires but that instead she came swinging in on this big obvious rope. But I loved that. I thought, Exactly. That’s the idea.
In Angels, if you do what Oskar Eustis [who directed the world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum] and I worked out in the stage directions for the first arrival of the angel, if you follow the directions exactly—now the lights flicker, now the bed moves—it works on a whole other level than if you just say, Nobody’s going to believe it’s an angel. Just make some noise and some crashing and have the ceiling split when she comes in. The closer you bring the audience to believing, the more powerful the equal and opposite reaction is—the disbelief. When they see that the stuff falling from the ceiling is Styrofoam—because of Equity you can’t drop real plaster on an actor, alas—and that the crack in the ceiling is precut and the angel’s on visible wires, they’re right on the edge of belief and disbelief.
Watching theatre, you learn that existence is legible but that you have to have a critical mind if you’re going to read it.
You sound like Gus in Intelligent Homosexual.
That’s exactly what Gus is talking about. Marxism-Leninism has made the world become transparent and legible to him. That’s what metatheories are meant to do—not necessarily to explain everything, but to command a magisterial enough vista, to have a deep enough coherence that they become for their adherents a way of understanding the world, at least of beginning an understanding. We’re now in the 21st century and have seen so many metatheories fail that we’re very skeptical, appropriately skeptical, of all of them. But I think we’re still in search of them and always will be, because we apprehend that there is coherence in the universe. We understand that what appears chaotic is merely the result of a limited point of view. If you can view chaos itself from God’s eye, you can see great patterns. Everybody from Aristotle and Plato to Wallace Stevens has written about this.
The point is to pierce the veil of illusion and see underneath to the skeleton, to the infrastructure, to the plumbing, and see how this stuff is actually made and how the magic effect is produced. You can’t live as anything other than history’s fool if you don’t make an effort to do that. I mean, you will always wind up being history’s fool—it’s not like you’re going to get out of it—but the only hope we have is for people not to be literal readers, not to be fundamentalist readers, and to understand that, from the Holy Scriptures on, the whole point is to interpret and to understand. I think theatre forces you to do that.
Is theatre unique in that respect?
No, film demands interpretation, of course, and there are great directors who emphasize the artificiality of film, its theatricality. But in film, the possibility exists of creating overwhelmingly convincing, nearly inescapable illusion, and that doesn’t exist as a possible choice onstage. You just can’t manage it. In a film like Avatar the illusion is almost inescapable, almost all encompassing, and it’s certain that, as we proceed into the future, cinematic illusion is becoming even more so. The flat projection screen is already a kind of archaic convention. It’s just an imitation of the proscenium arch, really. In the future we’re going to take drugs and the screen will be all around us and we’ll have sensory experiences with it and I’m sure it’ll be great, but people will still be going to the theatre to watch Hamlet and Laertes fight. The great thing about having somebody die at the end of a sword fight is that it takes a lot of physical energy to do a sword fight. So they’re dead, but their ribcages are heaving up and down. The incomplete, imperfect illusion will never be unnecessary for human beings, and its home will always be in the theatre, where everything, including death, is simultaneously thoroughly and yet not entirely convincing.
Do you tend to write very quickly and then revise, and revise, and revise?
I tend to delay as long as I possibly can and get into a lot of trouble and get everyone upset. And then it comes out. I always write under panic. I seem to need that.
Does the panic enliven your plays, or is it just a horrible necessity you have to endure?
It’s definitely horrible and I don’t want to believe it’s a necessity, but it seems to be. I don’t want to valorize it in myself, because it has made it hard for me and very hard for the people who work with me…It’s caused problems for many theatres I’ve worked with, for Mike Nichols and for Steven Spielberg. It’s never been a good thing. It’s something I have struggled with and suffered from all of my life.
I find writing very difficult. It’s hard and it hurts sometimes, and it’s scary because of the fear of failure and the very unpleasant feeling that you may have reached the limit of your abilities. You’re smart enough to see that there’s something that lies beyond what you’ve been able to do, but you don’t know how to get there, how to make it happen in the medium in which you’ve decided to work. I can be very masochistic, but that kind of anxiety is something I tend to want to avoid.
I’ve been in therapy and psychoanalysis since I was 17, so I certainly know a lot about why I procrastinate. But the need to do it is still very powerful. The smartest shrinks I’ve had don’t think there’s a clean separation between the salutary and the unsalutary parts of it. And they tell me I’m probably not going to be able to change it. Like sexual taste, your work ethic is formed deep within, and it’s comprised by all sorts of impulses. Why do any of us bother to put on clothes in the first place and accept toilet training and learn how to read and write and count? It’s enormously peculiar, the process of becoming civilized and developing things like a work ethic and a sexual ethic.
Have you developed techniques for dealing with procrastination?
The lesson I learn over and over again—and then forget over and over again—is that writing won’t be so bad once you get into it. One’s reluctance is immensely powerful. It’s like what Proust says about habit—it seems tiny in the grand arc of a person’s life narrative, but it’s the most insidious, powerful thing. Reluctance is like that.
When you feel most terrified—I think this is true of most writers—it’s because the thing isn’t there in your head. I’ve found it to be the case that you’ve got to start writing, and writing almost anything. Because writing is not simply an intellectual act. It doesn’t happen exclusively in your head. It’s a combination of idea and action, what Marx and Freud called praxis, a combining of the material and the immaterial. The action, the physical act of putting things down on paper, changes and produces a writer’s ideas.
Do you feel that psychoanalysis is necessary for a writer?
I don’t want to say that everyone should be in psychoanalysis, but I certainly think Freud is valuable, even essential. Learning to read the text of human behavior and the immensely complex way that language constitutes meaning is important. Being an analysand (a person undergoing psychoanalysis) also teaches a kind of ethics, a kind of scrupulousness about behavior. You learn that you’re going to do things you didn’t consciously intend, things that you intend only on a very deep level. You learn that it’s better, when those things happen, to acknowledge that they happened. You lose your innocence and that’s painful and it makes you a pain in the ass. If you read The Psychopathology of Everyday Life or the theory of the unconscious or Interpretation of Dreams, you start listening to people in an intrusive, slightly domineering, slightly paranoiac way. You start to suspect every motive you have and every motive that everyone else has, but I think what you get in return for that is a degree of consciousness about how we act and interact.
When you talk about doing things that are motivated on an unconscious level and trying to read people, I think about rehearsals. I know you had a tough time in Intelligent Homosexual rehearsals.
I wrote iHo in rehearsal at the Guthrie and then for various reasons found it very hard to get back to before we went into rehearsal again at the Public. Some of the central cast members had been with the play from the beginning, and they’re all enormously smart and talented and very powerful actors, and it wasn’t entirely clear by the end of the rehearsal process at the Public who owned the characters they were playing. It was clear who was going to own them, because it’s my play. But I felt like I was having to negotiate with the actors whenever I wanted to make changes, and sometimes I had to submit to them. A great actor like Linda Emond is not faking it. She’s doing annihilating work, and if I start monkeying around too much with the words, it’s terrifying for her, for any actor working at her level. It’s like brain surgery—it makes her work impossible. A playwright in production is a soul divided. You don’t want to fuck up the production, and you can easily do that by not respecting what the director and actors need. But you must also take care of the play. The needs of these two different things—the play and the production—are often incommensurable.
But production is also the great thing about being a playwright. When your work is reasonably close to completion, you get to go into a room full of wonderful people who will then help you continue to write your play. The solitude of novelists and poets and nonfiction prose writers is a terribly frightening thing for me to contemplate. Actors and directors make my life so much easier, and even sometimes happier. The only problem is that, as my friend George Wolfe always says, a playwright has to be able to know when it’s time to leave the party. Rehearsal rooms are hotbeds of suffering and agony and joy and sex, or at least eroticism and excitement, and you can get very caught up in them. It’s hard to leave and go back and be alone with a blank page. This is something that every writer, playwright or otherwise, goes through. But as a playwright I don’t think you quite develop the same talent for solitude that poets and novelists do. I wish I were a poet.
Excerpted from The Paris Review’s “Art of Theater No. 16: Tony Kushner,” by Catherine Steindler (Issue 201, Summer 2012).
Hear Tony Kushner’s thoughts on his play.
Introducing The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide
Michael Leibert Artistic Director Tony Taccone introduces The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide.
Want to listen to an extended interview with playwright Tony Kushner? Play these audio files online—or download and listen to them.
Photos courtesy of kevinberne.com
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Our literary department has curated this select list of resources about Tony Kushner, Karl Marx, and labor unions.
- A speech by Tony Kushner about the nature of writing, delivered at the 2013 Whiting Writers’ Awards and reprinted by the New Yorker magazine.
- The complete interview conducted between Catherine Steindler and Tony Kushner, as featured in the Paris Review and excerpted in Berkeley Rep’s show program.
- In this essay from the Atlantic, Christopher Hitchins discusses the life and work of Karl Marx in relation to the economic crisis that started in 2007.
- Since 2008, sales of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, Marx’s masterpiece of political economy, have soared. This article from the Guardian talks about the resurgence of interest in Marxist thinking.
- Founded in 1919 and crippled by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the CPUSA has persevered, still claiming a few thousand loyal members and still fighting for the “wealth of the United States to be for the benefit of all the people.” This BBC News Magazine piece explores the issues party members face, from right-wing attacks to public perception and changing the party’s name.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848
- A short political manuscript containing Marx and Engels’ theories about the nature of society and politics, and the perpetual social tendency toward class warfare.
Das Kapital by Karl Marx, 1867
- While only the first of three volumes was published during his lifetime, Karl Marx’s theory of the self-destructive nature of the capitalist system has had an enduring and influential lifespan.
- The story of the birth of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, originally the Pacific Coast district of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), the union responsible for approximately 42,000 hardworking laborers.
- A short video documenting the life of a longshoreman working at the port of Los Angeles in 1947.
- A 2009 fact sheet about the EFCA from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, an independent nonpartisan education and advocacy organization.
- An account of the life and career of Vito Marcantonio, the real-life radical politician who was written into The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide… as a deceased relative of the protagonists.