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Originally published Friday, September 28, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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At New City Theater: 'Tiny Kushner' provides 5 short plays, epic effect

The five short plays in "Tiny Kushner" by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") add up to an epic look at bright American zaniness and darker American craziness.

Seattle Times arts writer

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The subtitle of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Angels in America" was "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes." Downplay the "Gay," and the same subtitle works for "Tiny Kushner," a suite of five short plays that, with an epic cumulative effect, tap into five distinct veins of American craziness.

All but one feature real-life characters, ranging from Laura Bush to accordion-wielding showbiz eccentric Lucia Pamela. Yet far from being docudramas, they're feverish journeys into surreal realms, with three taking place in the afterlife — and the opening act taking place on the moon.

That's where the fizzily upbeat Lucia (Cozy Josephson) meets skeptical Queen Geraldine of Albania (Mary Ewald) shortly after their deaths. Watching Ewald's disdain for the perky, all-American Josephson crumble into grudging enchantment is a wonder to see.

Ewald and Josephson are also well-paired in the closing play, in which an increasingly unhinged First Lady (Ewald) tries to share her love of reading with three dead Iraqi children by telling them all about the Grand Inquisitor episode from Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov." The play, with its vertiginous swan dive into America's lethal entanglements in the Middle East, is anything but simple satire.

The fourth and fifth "movements" of "Tiny Kushner" are a showcase for Seanjohn Walsh. In one, he's a pudgy, semi-incontinent shambles of a psychiatric patient desperate to sleep with his shrink (Ewald), despite the fact that he's gay and she may be a lesbian. In the other, he's suavely groomed therapist Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker, unnerved that his most famous patient, Richard M. Nixon, has followed him into the afterlife.

Weak link: the suite's middle stretch, an overlong monologue about multiple characters in a tax revolt.

Lindsay Smith's lighting and sound spice the whole show sparely and effectively. But it's Kushner's barbed, churning, extravagant text — sensationally performed, for the most part — that provides the fireworks.

(8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 6, New City Theater, 1406 18th Ave., Seattle; $15-$20 (800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com).

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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