Thursday, September 13, 2012

This Year's Angel

I met this year's angel last night: Tony Kushner. I had NO IDEA I would meet him, let along be the first person in line to meet him after he spoke, let alone have him ask about my work. He even asked my last name. It's not like he's going to go look me up or anything, but you know, it was refreshing to me to have someone like him actually inquire, even if it was just him being polite.

He didn't give a lecture--he did a question/answer session with Eric Lange, the head of the theatre department at UNI, and then answered questions in the audience. It was two extremely delightful hours. He was extremely warm and funny, with a wonderfully dry and exact sense of humor. It was a political conversation, and it was interesting, not because we are not aligned politically (I believe we are) but because it's so nice to hear someone who is an artist who I respect give strong reasons for his belief in President Obama.

But back to his work. I first encountered his work when I was at the University of Iowa. My boyfriend at the time gave me a copy of both parts of ANGELS IN AMERICA. It took a long time for me to get through it, not because it wasn't interesting. I wasn't ready for it. By the time I was, I was a theatre major and we were finally doing the first part in our department. Our production was gorgeous. The girl who played Harper, Lauren, made me cry the whole time. The guy who played Roy Cohn, Tim, was scarier than Al Pacino in the movie version (which I saw later, enjoyed and own). I don't know any of this other work, but I am going to change that.

One of the things that really stuck with me from ANGELS IN AMERICA was from PERESTROIKA. Harper is talking to the Mormon Mother, and this conversation made me cry when I saw it in the film version. It was near and dear to me then, as I was going through a lot of painful personal changes, and through meeting my now husband and going through the hell I had to go through to get there. 

Harper: In your experience of the world. How do people change?
Mormon Mother: Well it has something to do with God so it's not very nice. God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in, he grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard, he insists, he pulls and pulls till all your innards are yanked out and the pain! We can't even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled and torn. It's up to you to do the stitching.
Harper: And then up you get. And walk around.
Mormon Mother: Just mangled guts pretending.
Mormon Mother: That's how people change.

Section from ANGELS IN AMERICA: PERESTROIKA by Tony Kushner

Gorgeous, ain't it? And it really does hit home.

So Tony Kushner has been added to the list of my personal angels. His talk last night was just a balm to my writing soul and I feel like I can just go on now.  I feel like I should say more about him. There's a lot going on for me emotionally regarding having made his acquaintance. I feel like it was just meant to be--like a brief encounter to keep me going. Like that old saying about the angel that stands over a blade of grass, whispering, grow, grow.

Now I have Suzan Lori-Parks, David Henry Hwang, Art Spiegelman and Tony Kushner standing behind me, whispering write, write.

There's definitely worse angels to have.

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