Perestroika – Tony Kusher

AIAPWe planned to discuss the script and the film of this but there was considerably less interest than expected so we aborted our plans – so this review is written in  personal capacity.

As a result of seeing some performances of his play of which he disapproves, the playwright makes some picky remarks about how actors shouldn’t play for laughs.

Act One is subtitled “Spooj” = cum,

Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov –  The World’s Oldest Living Bolshevik, who delivers the tirade that marks the beginning of Perestroika. Prelapsarianov criticizes the pettiness of modern American life, the pointless quality of life in the absence of a governing theory.

The Mormon Mother  –  A dummy from the diorama at the Mormon Visitor’s Center who is silenced while her husband and son speak. The Mormon mother comes to life, however, and accompanies Harper while sharing painful truths about life and change.

Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, the World’s Oldest Living Bolshevik, addresses the crowd from a podium.  – Marxism was grand and sweeping, Aleksii says, but modern America only lives for throwaway things and pygmy ideals.

Roy still bossing and phoning from hospital bed

Scene Six marks the first encounter between Belize and Roy, who, in some ways, are diametrical opposites but who, in other ways, are the most grounded characters in the play.

Belize serves as an intermediary who at various times connects or brings together Roy and Prior, Prior and Louis, Louis and Roy, Prior and Joe. Unafraid to confront those in power, like Henry or Roy, he holds his ground in conflicts and brings humor and gentleness to friends like Prior when they are in need. He is the characters’ sounding board and confidant, the person who comes closest to articulating Kushner’s ideal politics—not the confused liberalism of Louis but a generous and inclusive yet realistic progressivism. This progressivism highlights another bond between Belize and Roy—just as they are the most stable characters, they also have the most sharply defined, clear-eyed political ideologies in the play. Joe and Louis argue about exalted concepts like law and history, and Louis tells Prior his glorious ideas about justice. Neither Belize nor Roy, however, is taken in by fancy words. They understand what power is and how it is wielded without illusions. Roy’s vicious analysis of the “historical liberal coalition” cuts to the heart of one of modern America’s cherished ideals, the interracial cooperation of the civil rights movement, and yet Belize has the keenness not to respond with platitudes about freedom and democracy. Belize is humane, Roy monstrous, but both are pragmatists.

Belize’s respect and care for Roy is not based entirely on politics but also on the fact that AIDS humanizes Roy. In rare, fleeting moments—when he pleads with Belize not to leave him alone in the dark—the human being can be glimpsed beneath the ugliness and bravado.

BELIZE: Mr. Cohn. I’d rather suck the pus out of an abscess. I’d rather drink a subway toilet. I’d rather chew off my tongue and spit it in your leathery face. So thanks for the offer of conversation, but I’d rather not….. They have you down for radiation tomorrow for the sarcoma lesions, and you don’t want to let them do that, because radiation will kill the T-cells and you don’t have any you can afford to lose. So tell the doctor no thanks for the radiation. He won’t want to listen. Persuade him. Or he’ll kill you.

ROY: You’re just a fucking nurse. Why should I listen to you over my very qualified, very expensive WASP doctor? BELIZE: He’s not queer. I am.

Prior’s acceptance of a prophecy under the floorboards is surely a parody of the story of the finding of the Book of Mormon and the need for special glasses to read it.

I like the angel’s notion that “Not Physics but Ecstatics” makes the engine of creation run.

Kushner’s characters adopt a range of speech patterns, from the girl-talk and bantering of Belize and Prior to Joe’s legalese to the endless sentences of Louis’s hyper- intellectual diatribes. But all the characters are capable of taking on an unconsciously poetic sound when their thoughts transcend the everyday—when Harper meditates on the end of the world, for instance, or when Belize detects in the snowfall in Millennium the promise of “softness, compliance, forgiveness, grace.” This poetry is taken to an even higher pitch in the Angel’s speeches—it is consciously poetic, grandiosely poetic, arranged on the page with the short lines and metrical structure of verse. (This sometimes makes her speeches difficult to understand, particularly for audience-goers who do not have the benefit of referring to the printed page—there would be no way to tell whether “Lumen Phosphor Fluor Candle” are the four “divine emanations” of her persona, as Kushner explains mysteriously in his notes on characters.) The Angel’s poetry is at its grandest when she is speaking officially—proclaiming Prior’s prophet-hood, relating the history of Heaven, and so on. But when she is confused or distracted, a more casual speech peeks through—when Prior says he has never dreamed of the Sacred Prophetic Implements, the Angel stammers, “No…dreams, you…Are you sure?” It is a glimpse of vulnerability behind her imposing facade.

The Angel’s poetry is self-confident and impressive, and—fitting for the Angel of America—redolent of the greatest American poet, Walt Whitman. Sometimes the connection is direct: The Angel’s warning to Prior that he cannot escape—”Hiding from Me one place you will find me in another./ I I I I stop down the road, waiting for you”—parallels Whitman’s epic poem “Song of Myself,” which concludes with the lines, “Missing me one place search another,/ I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

It is easy to understand why Whitman appeals to Kushner. Whitman is universally acknowledged to have been gay, and his poems are filled with homoerotic images and tender depictions of same-sex friendships. He was also a passionate democrat, filled with affection and optimism for the American experiment. Louis’s dream of radical democracy in America, which Belize challenges but does not altogether overturn, could have come straight from Whitman.

There’s another biblical allusion in ‘You can’t outrun your occupation, Jonah.’ and realised eschatology in ‘There is no Zion save where you are.’

mox·ie  (mks)

  1. Slang
  2. Theabilitytofacedifficultywithspiritandcourage.
  3. Aggressiveenergy;initiative:”Hisprosehasmoxie,thoughitrushesandstumblesfromapent-upsurge”(PatriciaHampl).
  4. Skill;know-how.

guts, backbone, grit, gumption, sand

fortitude – strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity with courage

boldness, nerve [From Moxie, trademark for a soft drink.]

Roy admits that the world  he worked to accomplisth is unfair: The worst thing about being sick in America, Ethel, is you are booted out of the parade. Americans have no use for sick. Look at Reagan: He’s so healthy he’s hardly human, he’s a hundred if he’s a day, he takes a slug in his chest and two days later he’s out west riding ponies in his PJ’s. I mean who does that? That’s America. It’s just no country for the infirm.

And: BELIZE: Well I hate America, Louis. I hate this country. Ifs just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like you. The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word “free” to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me.

On the clash of ideologies: Louis: This is interesting. I’m losing myself in an ideological leather bar. The more appalling I find your politics the more I want to hump you.

Just as you can remove the Jew from the ghetto but can’t take the ghetto out of the Jew: JOE: You and me. It’s like we’re back in Salt Lake again. You sort of bring the desert with you.

There’s a suggestion that the reasons why Mormons migrated is because of lack of love. It is God who lacks love in this suggestion but I would read it as the lacking in love of the people who persecuted the Mormons.

In one vision of the afterlife, dummies come alive and search. This is mirrored in a scene in the Mormon diorama.

Joe visits Roy in his hospital room, afraid at first that Roy would not have forgiven him for refusing the job in Washington. Instead, Roy asks Joe to kneel before him and gives him a father’s blessing, likening it to Jacob’s in the Old Testament.

Roy’s blessing of Joe in Scene One sets up a definition of the word that becomes particularly important in Act Five. “Life. That’s what they’re supposed to bless. Life,” Roy tells Joe. In other words, to bless is to give more life. Kushner attributes this definition to a Hebrew translation proposed by Harold Bloom, a Yale professor and literary critic. In Act Five, when Prior ascends to Heaven to confront the Angels, he demands a blessing of life from them. Roy’s blessing, by contrast, is freely given. It is an appropriate gift for him to offer, since Roy values survival above all else: he admires the pubic lice because they are hard to kill, and he is determined to remain a lawyer until the day he dies not because he hopes to accomplish anything specific but simply for the value of lasting. And yet life is the one thing Roy does not have.

It’s a common place that the Bible starts in a garden (Eden) and ends in a city (in Revelation) This is mirrored in a discussion of heaven: BELIZE: Like San Francisco. ROY: A city Good. I was worried . . . it’d be a garden. I hate that shit.

As Roy dies, he asks to be an octopus next time. This refers back to the way he dealt with lots of phone calls and putting people on hold when he was working. He also hopes that there will be plenty of work for him to do in the afterlife because he gets bored easily.

In heaven, they play cards because it is the only element of chance in a re4alm where everything is settled and predictable.

The lawsuit” against God surely echoes the urban myth that some rabbis put God on trial in a concentration camp – and found him guilty of abandoning his covenant with chosen people. Just so, Roy talks to an unseen client, the King of the Universe, promising to defend him against a lawsuit for abandonment. Roy tells his client he is clearly guilty but that he will make something up.

When Harper flies to San Francisco to begin a new life, she has a dream where the ozone layer was torn and ragged until the souls of the dead, rising from the earth, joined it and made it whole again. This echoes the Jewish notion of tikkun olam – mending the world.

Louis tells the story of the angel Bethesda, who left a healing fountain. Mikveh?

Kushner’s heaven has out gay men and democrats. Republicans and closets case have excluded themselves.

In his final words, the playwright quotes a song:

Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…..

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil,
this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and
their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

….Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are
crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the
distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised
and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

….You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are
millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor
look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the
spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things
from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

…..Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man
hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be
less familiar than the rest.

……And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the
women my sisters and lovers,

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and
children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at
the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d
babe, and am not contain’d between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one
good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all
good.

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal
and fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready,
The dried grass of the harvest-time loads the slow-drawn
wagon,
The clear light plays on the brown gray and green intertinged,
The armfuls are pack’d to the sagging mow.

I am there, I help, I came stretch’d atop of the load,
I felt its soft jolts, one leg reclined on the other,
I jump from the cross-beams and seize the clover and
timothy,
And roll head over heels and tangle my hair full of wisps.

My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck on my
distant and day-long ramble,
They rise together, they slowly circle around.

I believe in those wing’d purposes,
And acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within me,
And consider green and violet and the tufted crown intentional,
And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not
something else,
And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills
pretty well to me,
And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.

…..The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her
tipsy and pimpled neck,
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and
wink to each other,
(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you;)
The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the
great Secretaries,
On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with
twined arms,
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in
the hold,
The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his
cattle,

As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by
the jingling of loose change,
The floor-men are laying the floor, the tinners are tinning the
roof, the masons are calling for mortar,
In single file each shouldering his hod pass onward the
laborers;
…..This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make
appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp’d slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

……In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

…..I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of
the stars,
….Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.

I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

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