I still remember Tony Kushner’s Angels in America plays as among the most powerful dramas that I have ever seen in a theatre and I am looking forward to discovering whether I will feel the same way when they are revived by the National Theatre next year. In the meantime, here is a later play (call it “iho” for short) from Kushner, getting its UK premier.
The play is a family saga, set in Brooklyn and bringing in themes of cross-generational guilt and American left wing politics. In the main thread, it feels as if Kushber is determined to deliver the play that Arthur Miller touched upon but never quite got round to completing. Suicidal patriarch, Gus (David Calder), a widower, had been a union leader representing longshoremen in the 1970s and his only daughter, “Empty* (Tamsin Greig) has inherited his socialist beliefs. Her partner, Maeve (Sirine Saba} is expecting a baby fathered by Gus’s younger son, V (Lex Shrapnel) while the older son, “Pill” (Richard Clothier) is in a love tangle, torn between his husband, Paul (Rhashan Stone) and an emotionally fragile rent boy, Eli (Luke Newberry).
The family gathers to dissuade Gus from selling his valuable brownstone house to Empty’s ex-husband, Adam (Daniel Flynn) at a time (2007) when markets are awash with borrowed money and also to prevent an expected second suicide attempt. Gus’s eccentric sister, Clio (a delightfully droll performance from Sara Kestelman) had been standing suicide guard, but has had enough and is about to leave. Sounds complicated? Well, yes, but Kushner takes his time (220 minutes including two intervals) to sort it out with skeletons dropping out of the cupboard, souls being bared and political ideologies colliding.
Michael Boyd’s production is acted superbly. Calder’s Brooklyn accent is all over the place but his performance is commanding in all other respects and Greig matches him in every stride. Tom Piper’s three-level revolving set is an imposing centrepiece but, above all, it is the truthful and lyrical writing that makes the play so enthralling from beginning to end.
Performance date: 4 November 2016