Was the Tony Kushner festival a success?

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Sunday marked closing night for “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures” at the Guthrie Theater. It seemed a bit of a quiet end to what’s been a major theater event for both the Guthrie and the Twin Cities. The two other Kushner plays, “Caroline, or Change” and “Tiny Kushner” had already closed, and so the big blue building was relatively quiet. There was a standing ovation for the play, but it wasn’t unanimous. “The Intelligent Homosexual” (or “I-Ho,” as Tony Kushner likes to call it), ends with the line “I’m thinking.” It’s an ambiguous finish, and a fitting end to a festival that’s been marked with both praise and sharp criticism.

Today the Guthrie (via an e-mailed press release) is already championing the success of the festival. It’s cherry-picking the sweetest comments from reviews and boasting gargantuan numbers of tickets sold (although many of them were rush tickets, or online specials designed to get butts in seats). The Guthrie says all three plays met their “box office goals” but there’s no explanation of what exactly those goals were.

Any artistic performance’s success can be judged a myriad of ways. Was it compelling? Was it entertaining? Did it make money? Did it take us someplace new? Did we learn something valuable? Was it great art?

The Guthrie commissioned Kushner to write a new play, invited him to speak, and staged two other works of his as well. In so doing, it provided an opportunity for thousands of people to learn more about this living playwright, and to see theater that is steeped in modern politics. If that was the theater’s goal, than it did indeed succeed.

The more long-lasting, greater success, to my mind, is what those approximately 90,000 people who partook in the Kushner Festival took away from it. And that is a much more difficult thing to gauge.

Did you see any of the Kushner plays? If so, what did you take away from them? Do you think the festival was a success?

  • wendy gaskill

    Absolutely it was a success! I attended three evenings at the Guthrie for the first time in my life! I heard Frank Rich, saw Caroline or Change and heard Tony and Joe Dowling talk. It was very exciting and interesting and I was pleased to support the Guthrie. Tony’s presence brought a real sense of excitement to Mpls and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

  • Wingnut

    Let this thing rest in peace already, huh? 20,000 kids under age 5… die on this planet PER DAY… from lack of basic survival supplies. Please, please, write about something more important, huh? Nearly ANYTHING is more important than a la-tee-da Kushner play. Write about the pyramid scheme symbol on the back of the USA dollar… how bout THAT?

  • Katie

    Are you saying art isn’t important? If anyone saw “Caroline, Or Change” they will support the Kushner Celebration and call it a success. These productions aren’t all “la dee da,” they are cultural expressions revealing some of America’s biggest faults and triumphs: the civil rights movement, economic injustice, dealings with the AIDS epidemic. I am proud the Guthrie had the guts to bring Kushner in.

  • http://www.jacquelineurick.com moarinternets

    I saw all three plays as well as Kushner’s lecture. “Tiny Kushner” turned out to be my favorite with “Caroline” as a very close second.

    The nights I was there, weeknights, the houses were relatively full.

    All of Kushner’s plays are intense. There is so much political and social commentary in them. He is definitely a great playwright. I don’t know if I would call him the greatest. I respect his messages on social and economic justice, but I don’t really agree with him on all points.

    Overall, the festival was a success for the Minnesota theater scene. It brought national attention to the new Guthrie.