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The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide Lead Actor Is Pulitzer- and Tony-Winning Playwright Himself: Interview with Michael Cristofer

By Lavender June 19, 2009

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The Guthrie’s dazzling world premiere of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide stars Michael Cristofer. A noted playwright himself, he won a Tony Prize and a Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 The Shadowbox, which includes a gay couple dealing with death.

What compelled you to write the gay subplot in The Shadowbox?

I wanted to do something with gay characters that had balance with the other characters in terms of just normalcy. I wanted to show that two people could be in a relationship and be gay, and that would not be the most interesting issue in their life.

Because of the differences in their ages and economic situations, was there mutual exploitation?

Mark, the younger guy, certainly was selling himself for sex, so I guess it began with some exploitation. Brian was meant to be a guy who doesn’t get sidetracked or bogged down, or stopped by normal boundaries. So, striking up a conversation about concepts of humankind with a guy who is selling himself for sex seemed to override the sense of exploitation. I think they found something in terms of feeding each other that was healthier than that.

Now, you play the father of a man in a relationship with a hustler.

It’s been fascinating to see a whole separate take on a similar relationship. Gus comes from a world with such a strong Marxist political viewpoint, and through his discipline, he’s dealing with two children who are gay. Kushner’s view is way beyond what my view of the world was when I wrote Shadowbox when I was 27.

How does Gus feel about his gay kids?

I think the reason why he wants to kill himself is that he has a view of children and marriage—all the traditional values—certainly not religious, but social-functioning relationships that produce people who are like-minded, and want to change the world, and struggle for class equality, which is what he’s all about. Then, he meets the world, and that is not fitting into his notion of the world he should be in. And that’s represented partly by the two children, what the two(gay) children represent. Although they are his children and they are human beings and I think he desperately loves them, they are not who he expected and thought they would be. At the beginning of the play I don’t think he quite sees how they can be who they are and do what he thinks, what he expects them to be able to do in the world as his children in the same way that he feels that he has a function in the world. So it’s that complexity and those contradictions, I think, that are driving him into his sort of strange isolation about whether or not he should really be alive. I guess sort of the terrific part of him is that he has a sort of fierce intellectual spine to his identity and at the same time is susceptible to the world that’s around him and his children and who they are. And I think that in the process of the play, when he is forced to deal honestly with who his children are -each one of them (including his straight son)- is something that probably he couldn’t have done at the beginning of the play. Because he was forced into this situation of telling them his plan, suddenly he’s dealing with them on a one to one level in terms of really who they are, not who he might have expected them or wanted them to be.

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a key to the Scriptures
Through June 28
Guthrie Theater
818 s. 2nd st., mpls
(612) 277-2224
www.celebratekushner.com

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