Out playwright Tony Kushner speaks the truth in this doc airing on PBS. Plus The Paper and Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale.
I’ve always loved the Prophets. Not the ones who live in the wormhole in Star Trek ‘s Deep Space 9, but the ones who stood outside the city cursing the uncaring, evil ways of the people. They had everyone’s number and weren’t bashful about speaking the truth.
“Speak the truth” was how Tony Kushner ended his commencement address to the 2002 graduates of Vassar. As is his wont, he read his own words at breakneck speed, as if he couldn’t wait to be done and off the stage. His magnificent address is one of many high points in Frieda Lee Mock’s documentary airing December 12 on PBS’ P.O.V. The 20th anniversary of the original television documentary series concludes with Mock’s Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner . She tells his story in three acts and an epilogue. Through her lens we see the creative process, introspection, action, hilarity, and a prophet at the height of his powers.
If you’re busy December 12, stop whatever you’re doing and tune in to the last 20 minutes to see the epilogue. If you’re lucky and can see the two-hour program in its entirety, you’ll see large parts of three of his plays: Homebody/Kabul , about a woman traveling in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan (which he wrote before 9/11); Caroline or Change , nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play of 2004 and set in Kushner’s hometown of Lake Charles, Louisiana (see—you can be from anywhere and be great); and the play that earned him a Pulitzer, Angels in America.
But Wrestling with Angels isn’t about his work as much as it is about him. He heads for Texas at one point and shares his apprehension about being around “all those scary Texans.” He meets with a small group of students at Southwestern in Georgetown and the result is heartening.
Heartening marks Wrestling with Angels as it marks the life of Tony Kushner, our very own prophet. Although I’ve admired the Prophets for their work, I don’t think I’d want to spend much time with one, what with all the stridency and judgment that normally accompanies their work—until I saw Kushner in this film. This is a prophet I’d have over for dinner. And I’d make sure I had a pen and paper handy. This guy knows how we should live, and he’s happy to tell you. Take notes.
Airs Wednesday, December 12 , at 9 p.m. on PBS (www.pbs.org).
John Stiles (www.johnwstiles.com) writes regularly for OutSmart magazine.
DVD Shorts: PBS has homophobia & HBO has George Michael
Sensationalism vs. hard news, ethics vs. objectivity, commercialism vs. integrity — all are issues facing Pennsylvania State University students as they publish The Daily Collegian. Watch these young journalists grow old before your very eyes as they attempt to balance issues like homophobia and racism with football scores and shrinking readership. This documentary by Aaron Matthews airs December 11, 9 p.m. as part of PBS’ Independent Lens series (www.houstonpbs.org). — Preview: Nancy Ford
Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale
Carrying with it the appropriately wry greeting, “Bloody Merry” is the second season’s last installment (and series finale) of Ricky Gervais’ best effort since his highly successful export, The Office. Guest stars George Michael, Clive Owen, and other British luminaries help “Andy Millman” bid his adieus in high style. The extended, 80-minute episode debuts December 16 with repeats throughout the month. HBO (www.hbo.com). — Preview: N.F.