Tiny Kushner

Tony Kushner
Tricycle Theatre
(2010)

Production photo

Nicolas Kent seems to have developed an antipathy towards the traditional multi-act play form. This collection from Tony Kushner is the third Tricycle multiple in a row, following Women, Power and Politics and The Great Game: Afghanistan.

Indeed, in this context, a collection of 5 one-act plays taking a mere 2½ hours represents a relative paucity.

At times during the evening, it can be hard to believe that this is the same writer as the person who created the epic Angels in America, although the elusive search for The Great American Dream and the caustic wit with which Kushner attacks those running his country are common themes.

As a treat for English viewers, this production has moved from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and Berkeley Repertory Theatre lock stock and barrel, under the direction of Tony Taccone. He has the benefit of four extremely versatile and very witty actors who will not be familiar to British audiences and make the most of the chances provided by so many different roles.

Flip Flop Fly!

The series starts with a fantasy and the first of several visits to Paradise. As in all of the plays, Annie Smart's simple scenic design is supplemented by vocalised stage directions delivered by members of the cast.

The unlikely combination of Valeri Mudek as a through and through American bimbo, beauty queen turned musician Lucia Pamela and Kate Eifrig playing the frosty real Queen Geraldine of Albania provides a whimsical opening as they look back on their "fantastical lives", ending with a comic song and soft shoe shuffle.

Both are fantasists and Kushner's point seems to be that while the beauty queen is completely off her rocker, the wife of the legendary King Zog with delusions of grandeur is little better.

Terminating or Sonnet LXXV or "Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein"or Ambivalence

Another theme of the evening is psychoanalysis. In what is possibly the weakest but conceivably the most personal of the playlets, JC Cutler takes on the role of a shabby, neurotic, gay patient.

He is trying to work out his problems with the assistance of his secretly-desired lesbian former analyst. Both are assisted by their current lovers who, visibly to the audience but invisibly to themselves, whisper words of support as things get tough.

Miss Eifrig as the shrink gets an opportunity for glory in a fine final speech and takes it with aplomb.

East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis: a little teleplay in tiny monologues

It seems unbelievable but for the second time in a matter of months, a playwright has constructed a work around tax returns, in this case under a commission form Alec Baldwin.

At the Finborough, James Graham used the experiences of an English individual as a metaphor for life. Tony Kushner enjoys himself with the true story of a scam that was unbelievably (in every sense of the word) successful.

While the IRS (or Internal Revenue Service to give them their full name) is reputed to be one of the most efficient organisations of its type in the world, everyone can make mistakes.

In what is effectively a monologue, expertly delivered by Jim Lichtscheidl, a tall but apparently true tale is spun that literally makes the IRS a laughing stock.

The starting point is a neo-Nazi white supremacist who, after being banged up in jail, explains that he is a disciple of someone even worse, who discovered a way to achieve nirvana by reducing anyone's tax liabilities to zero.

In simple language, this was effected by claiming 98 deductions from pay and making a simple declaration on a tax return form explaining that the US taxman has no jurisdiction over you.

This might sound a little far-fetched but eventually several hundred people used the formula with spectacular results. Just to make things even funnier, most of them were police or internal security officers working for the very government that they were ripping off.

Visitors might well shake their heads and suggest that this could never happen over here. With the massive cuts in headcount at HM Revenue and Customs and more proposed, don't bet on it!

Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker in Paradise

The first play after the interval combines the evening's main running themes. It features a discussion between analysts in Paradise while at the same time lampooning the United States and its most notorious president, Richard Milhous Nixon.

Death has not prevented Cutler's Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker from continuing to work with the man who now likes to be known as Milhous.

In a discussion with a fellow practitioner, the doctor who is very much a neurotic himself, talks of the stresses and strains that led Milhous to behave as he did before his colleague comes to the startling conclusion that to all intents and purposes, Richard Milhous Nixon is an analogue for Adolf Hitler.

Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy

The American presidents might have thought that their discomfort had ended with Tricky Dicky prior to yet another play set in Paradise. No chance.

In the final piece, Kate Eifrig does an uncanny impression of Mrs. Dubya, Laura Welch Bush, who is invited by the angelic Valeri Mudek to address a trio of dead children.

The key here is that each child has died horribly as a result of an "accident" perpetrated by the American liberators of Iraq.

In this company, the former First Lady's decision to comfort them with her Christian interpretations of a well chosen extract from The Brothers Karamazov could easily be regarded as undiplomatic.

By the time that she has finished, audience members will be in little doubt that Tony Kushner is no more a fan of the recently deposed US president than his disgraced Republican predecessor.

Playing until 25 September

Reviewer: Philip Fisher