Playwright Tony Kushner spoke at the Guthrie Theater tonight in conversation with artistic director Joe Dowling. Over the course of two hours, Kushner managed to do everything from condemn Ayn Rand (“put your hand in a blender, it’s faster”) to flirt with the entire Twin City Gay Men’s Chorus (“you’re all really hot, if I wasn’t already married, etc”).
While Dowling avoided any mention of recent critical reviews of Kushner’s new play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Sciptures , Kushner himself took a moment to address questions about the plays “readiness:”
There’s this sort of snarky stuff that’s been out there in mutterers’ corners and the unlit places surrounding what has mostly been a pretty fun time here. That the play… that something was sort of awful and wrong because the play was written under these “circumstances” – I mean screw you! – the play was written in a kind of fever and it produced a really interesting feverish play. The next version of it will be somewhat different than this version, but the… big challenge for me is going to be to preserve what I think is the most exciting thing about the play, which is it’s feverishness, and not to clean it up and make it all tidy so that drama critics say “ooh, it’s tidy now!”
If you detected a note of animosity toward critics, you’re right. Kushner also shared a poem he wrote years ago, which lays bare the sentiments playwrights feel for critics who pan their work. It was too good not to post, so I’ve done my best to transcribe it here:
A Song for Playwrights in self-defense:
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
the drama critic’s in a stew
He holds his breath ’til he turns blue,
He doesn’t like the work we do.
Tell us critic, tell us true
Whence oh whence your bilious spew?
Is it some trauma’s residue?
What did your parents do to you?
You carp and pick and misconstrue,
besmirch the world with critic poo,
less welcome than the spanish flu,
the sort that decent folk eschew,
and you’re reactionary, too.
Perhaps it’s time that you withdrew,
doffed your cap and bid adieu,
defenestrate or swallowed glue,
take up a knife – your breast imbrue.
We wish for you a passepartout
Transport yourself to Ougadou-
gou, Honolulu or Corfu,
Say Tally-ho and Toodaloo!
We promise we will not pursue.
You will not do, you will not do
Your “mein kampf” love of rack and screw
Your brute brute newsprint heart, ach du,
We are no longer reading you,
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, etc.
Note: this poem refers exclusively to those drama critics who fail to appreciate my work. All others are enthusiastically exempted.
Finally, Kushner ended with a gushing thank you to the Guthrie and to Minneapolis for hosting the Tony Kushner Festival:
Please know, that this has been a soul-changing and life-changing experience for me. There’s that line from the Tempest: “Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill or else my project fails.” I feel like I’ve been given so much from the last five weeks – it will carry me through the rest of my career, I’ll never forget this and I’ll never ever stop being enormously grateful for it so thank you very much.
If you missed the talk, not to worry – Midday plans to rebroadcast it this Friday, barring any major breaking news.