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Renowned playwright Tony Kushner previews new opera


Playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner reads an excerpt from a play Monday in the Fine Arts Auditorium. Kushner won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his play "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes." Rabi Abonour Buy Photos

With just minutes left until the presentation’s start, the Fine Arts Auditorium was packed with bodies and expectant energy.

It wasn’t long after Kushner took the stage that the audience erupted in laughter time-and-time again.

“If it’s boring, you can get up and leave,” Kushner said to the attendees in the back, all of whom appeared hesitant to venture forward in an attempt to find seating. “I won’t be offended. Okay, maybe I will, but I won’t know who you are.”

Kushner, most famously known for his play “Angels in America,” is characterized by his talent in displaying “those who are, or have been, rendered powerless in certain situations,” said Director of College Arts and Humanities Institute Andrea Ciccarelli.
“Angels in America” explores a group of individuals’ lives as they are turned upside down by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

However, Kushner started his presentation with something drastically different from “Angels in America” — a reading of an opera he is currently working on that is based on the life of playwright Eugene O’Neill.

The scene recounted an evening walk in the snow as O’Neill, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, treks angrily away from a fight he just had with his wife. The result was a rhyming, sensory-oriented set of lyrics.

The reading was an almost instant glass-box effect — as if the audience was secretly watching the creative process take place within a great playwright’s mind.

Later in the presentation, Ciccarelli retook his seat next to Kushner and read audience questions, the first centered on “Angels in America” and whether the work was still timely.

“As a playwright, you’re always nervous that your play will become outdated,” Kushner said. “But I’m actually unhappy with how timely it still is. Not enough has changed.”
Other questions led to personal advice from Kushner.

“You should always have an audience in your head when you write,” he said. “Make them a friendly audience. Get control of them so you won’t be afraid.”

And, last but not least, don’t be boring, Kushner said.

“Boredom is an act of aggression,” he said. “If you get 800 people who are there for two hours, that’s 1,600 hours of life you’ve wasted. It’s like you’ve murdered a small child.”

Mallory Cohn, a graduate student studying English, found the jokes entertaining.
“His plays are so funny,” she said. “The dialogue is a mile-a-minute. Apparently, that’s how he talks, too. He’s like a character in one of his plays.”

Luc Torok, a junior who had never heard any of Kushner’s work before the presentation, agreed.

“It was interesting to see how many people came out and to see how they connected to him,” Torok said. “To be honest, I kind of want to see one of his plays now.”

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