Showing posts with label Tony Kushner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tony Kushner. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Ernest Gaines
President Barack Obama on Wednesday bestowed prestigious National Medal of Arts to famed New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint, Louisiana author Ernest J. Gaines, and Lake Charles-raised playwright and “Lincoln” screenwriter Tony Kushner.

Obama called it a special treat to honor all the musicians, writers, directors, artists and others who have inspired him and the rest of the nation.

“Frankly, this is just fun for me, because I feel like I know you all because I’ve enjoyed your performances,” Obama said. “Your writings have fundamentally changed me — I think for the better.”

Obama singled out Gaines, 80, who is best known for his novels “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” along with singer and pianist Toussaint, 75, for their inspirations.
On three occasions, I met Ernest Gaines and his lovely wife, Dianne, once when he received an award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, another time when he was honored at a reception in New Roads, Louisiana, and at another gathering in Baton Rouge.  As a young African-American boy, Gaines' life in rural Pointe Coupee Parish was hard.   In his fiction, which is set in Bayonne, a fictionalized Pointe Coupee Parish, Gaines does not gloss over the reality of life in rural Louisiana, but what amazes me about his writing and my conversations with him is the absence of bitterness.  Dianne is originally from New Orleans, so we shared stories about growing up in the city.  Gaines and his wife now live in Oscar, Louisiana, on land that was part of River Lake Plantation, where he lived until the age of 15, when he moved to Vallejo, California, to live with his mother.  The Gaines' present home is near the small farm where Grandpère grew up and which he inherited when his parents died.
What I miss today more than anything else - I don't go to church as much anymore - but that old-time religion, that old singing, that old praying which I love so much. That is the great strength of my being, of my writing.

When I'm sitting in the church alone, I can hear singing of the old people. I can hear their singing and I can hear their praying, and sometimes I hum one of their songs. 

(Ernest Gaines) from BrainyQuote.

Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint is one of the best of many excellent New Orleans musicians, one who came home after Katrina and the federal flood to help his city recover and to help and encourage local musicians.  As an ambassador for New Orleans music, Toussaint traveled with the local musicians to show off their talents around the world.
Afterward, Toussaint called the day historic and said that getting the Medal of Arts from the president was the greatest award he could receive.

“I’m so glad that America treats its own in such fine fashion,” Toussaint said. “It’s absolutely wonderful. And the president and the first lady as hosts, they are impeccable.”

“Me being from Louisiana, I feel all of where I’m from wherever I am,” he added. “As I was there receiving my award, I was thinking of New Orleans and Louisiana, etcetera.”
 Below is a video of Toussaint performing "There's a Party Goin' On".

The third honoree, Tony Kushner, spent his formative years in southwestern Louisiana.
Kushner also spoke fondly of growing up in Lake Charles.

“It was a great blessing to grow up in Louisiana, and I think it heightened my awareness of the beauty of the world because it’s such a beautiful place,” he said. “I love the people I grew up with. I think being a Southern writer had an enormous impact on the way that I speak and the kind of lyricism that I aspire to.”
If I ever knew Kushner spent his childhood and youth in Lake Charles, I had forgotten.
Frank Rich’s original review of the 1993 Broadway run of Millennium Approaches, published May 5, 1993

This play has already been talked about so much that you may feel you have already seen it, but believe me, you haven’t, even if you actually have. The new New York production is the third I’ve seen of “Millennium Approaches,” as the first, self-contained, three-and-a-half- hour part of “Angels in America” is titled. (Part 2, “Perestroika,” is to join it in repertory in the fall.) As directed with crystalline lucidity by George C. Wolfe and ignited by blood-churning performances by Ron Leibman and Stephen Spinella, this staging only adds to the impression that Mr. Kushner has written the most thrilling American play in years. 

Tony Kushner
“Angels in America” is a work that never loses its wicked sense of humor or its wrenching grasp on such timeless dramatic matters as life, death and faith even as it ranges through territory as far-flung as the complex, plague-ridden nation Mr. Kushner wishes both to survey and to address.
Three honorees from Louisiana out of a total of twenty-three makes me proud.  Despite the politicians' low regard for funding education and the arts, the gifted excel anyway.

The names of the other recipients of the National Medal of Arts are here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Last Sunday, Grandpère and I went to see "Lincoln", the movie.  I urge you to see the film.  It is excellent.  Daniel Day-Lewis will be Abraham Lincoln for generations to come.  As one reviewer put it, the Oscar for best actor might just as well be handed over to Lewis today.  His portrayal of Lincoln is superb.

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln should be a contender for best actress, as well as Tommy Lee Jones for best supporting actor for his role as Republican leader in the US House of Representatives, Thaddeus Stevens.  And how fortunate Lincoln was to have such a wise and steadfast friend, William Seward, as Secretary of State, ably performed by David Strathairn.

Steven Spielberg's direction of the actors' performances of Tony Kushner's outstanding script is masterful.  A good deal of the material for the screenplay was taken from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book titled Team of Rivals. I would not be surprised if the film made a sweep of most of the major awards - best picture, best director, best screenplay.

The movie is not a biography, but rather tells the story of the last few months of Lincoln's life, when he was focused, first and foremost, on passage of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery through a recalcitrant House of Representatives.  Sound familiar?  At the same time, Lincoln attempted to arrange the terms to end the bloody Civil War, and, in his personal life, he dealt with his emotionally fragile wife, who had already lost two sons, and strongly opposed her son Robert's determination to join the war effort.  As all the photographs of the day portray Lincoln, he was a man who bore heavy burdens.

As I watched the movie, I was carried through the history of the United States back to its beginning and forward to the present day.  We reap the bitter harvest now of our foundation as the "land of the free" with the dark stain of slavery intact.  Democracy was and is a messy form of government, which hardly ever gets things quite right, but what other form is better?

Another thought came to mind: whether consciously or unconsciously, President Obama may quite often use Lincoln as his model for how to be president.  Although the two men, Lincoln and Obama, are quite different characters and personalities, I see similarities in the manner that they conducted themselves in office.

Oh, and how in heaven's name did the Republican Party of Lincoln's day come to be the Republican Party of today?  As I pondered the answer to the question, a quick series of historical flashbacks all the way back to the beginning of our history gave me an overview of how the transformation took place.  Up until today, we still wrestle with the consequences of the institution of slavery embedded in the foundation of our country.

A film that causes me think as seriously about the history of my country as "Lincoln" might well merit the designation of "great".    

Image from Wikipedia.

UPDATE: Tobias Haller wrote a splendid review of the film titled "Lincoln as Grand Opera", which is quite different from mine, though we both come to the same conclusion that "Lincoln" is a must-see movie.  Besides, Tobias' review is that of an expert as he was an actor in another life.