Berkeley Rep's "Tiny Kushner" shows the towering playwright in lest than statuesque form
THEATER A reunion between Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone and playwright Tony Kushner is a notable event. This is a relationship that goes back to the original production of Angels in America, after all. Currently up: Tiny Kushner. The amusingly self-effacing title, however, flagging an evening of short works by still one of the biggest names on the American theatrical landscape, ends up disappointingly prescient.
Flip Flop Fly! concerns a postmortem lunar encounter between two eccentric female historical figures: American entertainer and self-styled interplanetary composer Lucia Pamela (Valeri Mudek); and the Hitler-loving Queen of Albania (Kate Eifrig). The meeting delivers little more than a fairly tired clash between a naïve but boundlessly imaginative American and a crustily authoritarian European, climaxing in a Mel Brooks moment of musical harmonizing.
Next comes Terminating or Sonnet LXXV or "Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein" or Ambivalence. Terminating is a high point, witty and wisecracking, in a New Yorker sort of way. Terminating's clever riffing on love and our existential, species-defining "ambivalence" also comes buoyed by J.C. Cutler's terrific turn as former patient Hendrick, a slovenly yet charming manic trying to worm his way back onto the couch, and into the bed, of his rattled lesbian analyst (an equally solid Eifrig).
Then comes the interminable East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis: a little teleplay in tiny monologues, a facile comedy concerning a tax evasion scheme rifling through the lower echelons of New York's state bureaucracy, generated from afar by a cartoonish white supremacist with what he considers the mother of all tax loop holes. The wearying, jaggedly-paced series of scenes features a large set of social and ethnic caricatures by Lichtscheidl (who is dutiful but not quite up to the task) set against a backdrop of print-heavy IRS forms that, as a text, frankly begins to look no less interesting than the one being performed.
Also thin is Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker in Paradise, another light take on potentially weighty themes in a fanciful setting, this one affably shared by a thousand-eyed "recoding angel" (Eifrig) and Nixon's old shrink (Cutler).
If the evening means to showcase the breadth of Kushner's work, there's actually small reward in its repetitious themes and gestures but, rather than highlighting larger, probing concerns, they instead feel like deeply grooved habits of form and rarely give rise to anything very inspired. The marked exception is the last piece, Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, which, while problematic and dated, has the merit of being truly angry and at least fitfully commanding in its encounter between Laura Bush and a group of dead Iraqi children in heaven on the eve of the Iraq invasion. Here the play and playwright have something to voice and it carries. (Robert Avila)
TINY KUSHNER Through Nov 29, $27$-71. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison, Berk. (510) 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org