Political Struggles in a Bright Room

'Theater Teaches One to Look Critically at the World,' Says Playwright Kushner

by Fernando Quintero

At an informal guest lecture at Durham Theater Studio, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner encouraged students to write for the same reason he does.

"To break the silence," he said. "Silence is betrayal.

"So much of what is happening politically is being met with silence. Everyone should write."

Kushner's play "A Bright Room Called Day" will be the first season production of the Center for Theater Arts.

Kushner captured the world's attention with his epic drama about the AIDS epidemic, "Angels in America."

The play in two separate parts, "Millennium Approaches" and "Peristroika," garnered both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for best play in 1993.

Kushner talked about how "A Bright Room" was written during his senior year as a graduate student at New York University in response to his "overwhelming sense of despair" following the re-election of former President Reagan.

The play depicts a group of artists and political activists struggling to preserve themselves in Berlin during the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Controversial parallels are drawn between Reagan and Hitler.

"It was important for me to make a statement. As an artist, you can really say something about the times we live in," he said.

First performed in 1985, the play opened in a rented warehouse in New York that happened to be next door to a Korean S&M bordello. "You could hear moaning and groaning during the performances," Kushner recalled.

Similar anecdotes about the theater world as well as a few insightful thoughts turned Kushner's presentation from the edge of the empty theater stage into a headliner act. Questions from students following his brief presentation elicited both humorous and insightful remarks.

Asked about the importance of political theater, Kushner said all theater is political.

"It's part of the public discourse. You should feel that everything you write could start a revolution," he said.

Regarding the importance of theater in general, Kushner said theater teaches one to look critically at the world.

And he offered some advice for budding playwrights hoping to make it big as hot shot screenplay writers: "If you want to be a good writer, don't write for Hollywood. Hollywood is worse than the clichés."

Kushner, who has written a screenplay for "Angels in America," turned down an offer two years ago to rewrite the screenplay for the Flintstones movie.

"They said if I could make a play with a serious subject like 'Angels in America' and make it funny, I would be good for the Flintstones."


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