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Columbia Missourian

'Angels in America' playwright Tony Kushner discusses homosexuality, theater

By Miguel Sola
April 24, 2013 | 8:25 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Tony Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner had a dream about a friend who had just gotten the AIDS virus and an angel crashing through the ceiling. Then, he wrote a poem about it called “Angels in America,” and he has never looked at it since that day.

However, the poem inspired him to write the 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," which chronicles the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s in New York City.

On Wednesday afternoon at a conference called “Angels in Performance: Documenting LGBTQ Lives in Theatre and Performance," MU theater professor David Crespy interviewed Kushner at the Rhynsburger Theatre.

“The reason why 'Angels in America' has such a good life is because it is not an issue play, but talks about gay men and Reaganism, which we are still struggling with,” Kushner said.

The playwright also emphasized how 20 years later, silence about AIDS has become more intense and people don't think or read about it.

“Bringing AIDS back to the public consciousness is not what the power of theater is for,” Kushner said.

Kushner, who is gay, said he encourages other homosexuals to be open about their sexuality.

“I always thought being a member of a minority is a good position to spread out the epistemological knowledge of the oppressed,” he said.

The first part of Kushner's play, "Millennium Approaches" will be performed by MU students Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights this week and next week at the Rhynsburger TheatreA free reading of the second part of the play, "Perestroika," is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

Many people in the audience knew Kushner and have been following his work for a long time.

Joe Geist, curator of The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art, had seen "Angels in America" in New York and London but never seen an amateur production before.

“He is a very insightful person," Geist said. "His subjects matters are out of the ordinary.”

Emma Fountain, an MU theater student, has read the play and plans to see it next week.

“What I like about the play is the LGBTQ aspect and the issues he talks about,” Fountain said.

In addition to Kushner, MU Director of Libraries James Cogswell announced the inclusion of playwright Lanford Wilson’s personal papers to MU. Extensive materials, such as letters and photographs, will be available at the university’s library.

He also joked to Kushner not to burn his personal writings, as Kushner had mentioned before.

“You may not,” Cogswell said as the audience laughed.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.