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?