Category: Tony Kushner

“Weird Name. Prior Walter. Like, ‘the Walter before this one.’”

Posted June 5, 2012 - 11:46am

-Emily, Millennium Approaches, Act 2

When he was writing his “Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” Tony Kushner felt it important to have a character “who can claim antecedents stretching back a millennium.” Placing this in contrast to his Jewish, African-American, and Mormon characters emphasizes, as Kushner told the New York Times, that “a certain sense of rootlessness is part of the American character.” It also gave him a way to remind his audience that “Plagues and epidemics are nothing new,” by bringing in two prior Priors in Act 3, both victims of horrible plagues that struck England in the 14th and 17th centuries. But why did he give the character such a “weird name,” as Emily notes?

Well, there actually was a “Walter before this one.” In an interview with American Theatre magazine, Kushner says he’d “been looking for one of those WASP names that nobody gets called anymore,” but that the name really came out of a conversation with his friend Kimberly Flynn (to whom Kushner dedicated Perestroika). They often discussed the German-Jewish Marxist writer Walter Benjamin, whose writings Flynn had introduced him to. Flynn “said jokingly that at times she felt such an extraordinary kinship with him that she thought she was Walter Benjamin reincarnated. And so at one point . . . I said, ‘I had to look up something in Benjamin – not you, but the prior Walter.’”

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Tony Kushner looks back on 20 years of Angels in America

Posted May 17, 2012 - 11:02am

Sound bites taken from From an interview with Neal Conan, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” September 12, 2011

“During ... the Reagan years, there was a sort of sea change taking place in American politics — and then, as it turned out, in European politics as well, and ultimately in global politics, that we were entering a new period where old reliables were going to be overthrown, and a new way of looking at the world was at hand. And it wasn’t necessarily an appealing way of looking at the world, at least for me... There was a sense that something was coming and it might be something great, and might be something terrible ...

“I feel, going back now, that the early ‘90s, the late ‘80s, for all the horrors of the AIDS epidemic, were comparatively innocent and carefree times compared to where we are now. In the mid-’80s when I wrote the play, it included things about ‘eco-cide,’ about the collapse of the ozone layer. I really didn’t believe in my heart of hearts that the human race was now threatening the survival of life on the planet. There’s now absolutely no doubt that that’s the case... It’s completely clear that what we were beginning to get worried about in the ‘80s was very serious and very real things ... so the play, and the times, both feel darker to me now than they did back then.”

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