One of my favorite moments in Angels in America is the scene where Ethel Rosenberg and Louis say Kaddish for Roy Cohn. In the midst of a play where anger or even disdain toward God metastasizes throughout the characters comes an act that is reverent, spiritual, and deeply tied to religion: the Jewish prayer for the dead. And even more so, it is said in honor of a loathsome individual, both in the play and in American history. As Belize notes after asking Louis to bless someone so detestable, “It doesn’t count if it’s easy.” Playwright Tony Kushner is quoted in the book Tony Kushner in Conversation as saying, “I feel in a certain sense that the theater is the closest that I come to a religion.“ That may be so, but in his work there is a recurrent grappling with God, an ongoing presence of religion between characters of all faiths from Islam to Mormonism, frequent allusions to the Bible, and the presence of supernatural forces which suggests a certain spirituality, religious or not. What’s interesting about this, is that such material is created by a writer whose plays are more widely known for political content, historical context, and dialogue that leans toward rationalism.
I’m excited for the New York premieres of two Kushner plays coming this season: The Illusionand The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. (The Illusion was first presented as a reading at NY Theater Workshop in ’88.) While the two works, particularly the latter, will touch on social and political themes, I’ll look for a certain wink to the divine that I imagine will exist in both productions.