Last week (3 September 2010, previews from 1 September), the Tricycle Theatre presented the British premiere of the Guthrie Theater/Berkeley Rep production of Tiny Kushner, a collection of five one-act plays by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner.
Running until 25 September 2010, Tiny Kushner is directed by Berkeley Repertory’s artistic director Tony Taccone, and transfers replete with its all-American cast of JC Cutler, Kate Eifrig, Jim Lichtscheidl and Valeri Mudek.
Kushner is one of America’s most prolific playwrights and the winner of awards including the Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, an Emmy Award, an Olivier Award, two Evening Standard Awards and a Golden Globe. His plays include Angels in America, A Bright Room Called Day, Homebody/Kabul, Hydriotaphia and Slavs!. He also wrote the book and lyrics for Caroline, or Change (which transferred to the National Theatre in 2006), and the screenplays for Angels in America and Munich.
So were the British critics as enamoured as their US counterparts?
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) - "Five short plays by Tony Kushner prove a mixed bag in this feisty import direct from the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis ... It’s always a pleasure to welcome actors as good as these from the other side of the pond: Tony Taccone, one of Kushner’s longtime associates, directs a versatile quartet in some acidic, fantastic collisions between Richard Nixon’s therapist and the Recording Angel; a bizarre St Louis beauty queen turned entertainer and the scary real-life Queen of Albania; and Laura Bush and three invisible dead Iraqi children ... This latter sketch is easily the best, profoundly squirm-inducing as Kate Eifrig’s Laura offers false comfort and apology while reading from her favourite author, Dostoevksy. The worst item is a baffling series of mini-scenes delivered (very well) as a monologue by Jim Lichtscheidl as a rabble-rousing anti-tax activist."
Libby Purves in The Times (three stars) - "If you’ve a taste for left politics, trippy fantasy, intellectual exhibitionism and kvetching New York-Jewish comedy, this is your night. Parts of it were definitely mine ... The performers are beautifully balanced: Valeri Mudek in innocent blonde parts, Kate Eifrig edgy and alarming, Jim Lichtscheidl doing narratives and uncanny imitations of teenage girls, and JC Cutler in wilder character parts ... The final play is the most shocking: a poignant angry session in which Laura Bush - wonderful Eifrig again, mixing ladylike guilt with repressed anger - arrives in Paradise primary school to read Dostoevsky to Iraqi children dead of sanctions and bombings ... You could hear a pin drop."
Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (four stars) - "This quintet of one-act plays shows Tony Kushner at his most fanciful and eclectic ... In truth, all five of the pieces here are slightly too long but they neatly display Kushner’s flair for creating a sort of mad conceptual ballet, in which the ordinary collides with the extravagant and indeed the ethereal ... Tony Taccone’s production sustains a nice rhythm across the five constituent parts, yet it’s Kushner’s linguistic dexterity that impresses most ... While not all of Tiny Kushner takes wing, there’s plenty to admire in this two-hour exhibition of the playwright’s distinctive, showy intelligence."
Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) - "Tony Kushner is still best known for his epic fantasia Angels in America. But, even in these five short plays imported from the Guthrie Theatre and Berkeley Rep, he reveals his gift for blending the hallucinatory and the political ... Tony Taccone's production saves the best till last: a playlet, which caused a scandal in America, in which Laura Bush treats a group of dead Iraqi children to a summation of the Grand Inquisitor's speech from The Brothers Karamazov ... At times, fantasy descends into whimsy. An opening sketch about a lunar encounter between an American chanteuse and an Albanian royal left me cold ... A playful, political evening that, although wildly uneven, testifies to Kushner's continuing belief in ambivalence."
Paul Taylor in the Independent (four stars) - “Radical politics and erudite, high-camp fancifulness inform these five short but imaginatively outsize works. As in Angels, invented characters, supernatural beings and real-life figures are brought into bizarre confrontations … In a loony, posthumous encounter on the moon, Kate Eifrig's hilariously sour Queen of Albania, an embittered fascist exile, squares up to her ideological opposite, the semi-delusional, relentlessly optimistic American entertainer Lucia Pamela ... Ms Eifrig is magnificent in the haunting, climactic play … The resulting conflict between her official mission (to reassure the children that their deaths were necessary for the cause of freedom) and her deepening intuitions (that Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor and Dick Cheney have much in common, say) creates a painfully moving, speculative portrait of a decent, divided soul.”