To call the Zeitgeist Stage’s collection of short plays by Tony Kushner “tiny” is a bit of a misnomer, although in Kushner years, at two and a half hours it probably is. His monumental ANGELS IN AMERICA (which is my favorite play, hands down) is a lot longer than TINY KUSHNER (playing at the BCA Through Oct. 22nd).
Where ANGELS IN AMERICA is elegant, eloquent and epic, these short plays are not. They’re mostly musings on famous or forgotten historical figures from another perspective, without the sweep of righteousness you feel in ANGELS. (More than a couple of lines will remind you of Roy Cohn and the angel(s) whisk you immediately back to Kushner’s masterpiece.)
The first little play has the promise of a high strung culture clash. An American beauty queen and an actual Queen meet up in the afterlife (on the moon!) but alas, Kushner chooses vaudeville over Sturm and Drang to wrap this one up. (This and one of the therapist pieces started out as riffs on obituaries for the N.Y Times Magazine year end edition.) Maureen Adduci is marvelously regal as the abdicated Queen of Albania and Kara Manson is deliciously loopy as the self absorbed, multi-tasking pageant winner. Director David J. Miller plays up the fiery chemistry between the two actresses but it’s all undercut by Kushner’s turn to song and dance.
Two vignettes stem from Kushner’s fascination with psychoanalysis (with an emphasis on the psycho). In one a patient who has just been terminated (the wonderful Craig Houk) begs his doctor (an exasperated Manson) to take him back. The irrelevancies of life have set him adrift (I must confess I felt we in the audience were adrift, as well). Kushner frequently visits the subject of ambivalence in a world without “absolutes,” as he does here. In the second, an analyst (Houk) complains to the recording angel in heaven (Adduci) that even after death, he’s still saddled with Richard Nixon for a patient. It’s a hilarious premise but then Kushner meanders hopelessly in speculation about Nixon’s abandonment issues.
Kushner calls out former President Bush in a searing piece (which really doesn’t need Dostoevsky) where the first lady reads aloud to dead Iraqi children about the choice between good and evil. Adduci as Laura Bush and Mason as the angel who brings the children to her make the scene resonate.
The one section of TINY KUSHNER which really doesn’t fit with the others is an odd collection of a thousand and one (it seemed like it anyway) monologues presented as if we were seeing a film in fast cuts. All the characters in the faux film (played by Victor Shopov) are delivered, curiously, in almost the same voice. It might have been a tour de force. Instead it’s just baffling.