Tricycle Theatre review: Tiny Kushner

A regally dressed woman sneers across at a beaming American beauty queen and declares: “Americans have no sense of tragedy.”

A regally dressed woman sneers across at a beaming American beauty queen and declares: “Americans have no sense of tragedy.”

Tony Taccone’s hyperactive production of Tiny Kushner goes on to prove her wrong. In this break-neck, whirlwind of an evening we find the tragic, the ludicrous and the downright disgusting in five short plays by American, Tony Kushner (author of Angels in America).

Four actors play all the roles with seemingly inexhaustible energy. Flip Flop Fly!, the first piece, plays out a truly surreal lunar encounter between an ex-beauty queen and the Queen of Albania.

Two plays aim their fire at hollow American psycho-babble and there is an arduous, though surprisingly engaging, monologue on tax evasion. Finally, we reach the infamous Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy.

In this final piece – easily the best in the quintet – ex-first Lady of America Laura Bush reads a story to three dead Iraqi children in Paradise.

This is Kushner at his most unforgiving, vitriolic best: his anger and frustration are palpable. Kate Eifrig is appropriately prim and earnest as Laura Bush, explaining her husband’s reasons for bombing Iraq while an angel (played unnervingly by Valeri Mudek) looks on.

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The monologue on tax-evasion is performed by a phenomenal Jim Lichtscheidl playing countless characters – from a teen punk to a skin-head inmate – and conducting a master-class in accents. But the piece is overly long and difficult to follow.

JC Cutler, as a neurotic Woody Allen-type, livens up the topic of psychiatry with spot-on comic timing and minutely observed nervous ticks.

Taccone’s direction is effortlessly elegant throughout as he wrestles with the complex and often bizarre exchanges of Kushner’s creations. The simple but striking set, by Annie Smart, gently reinforces the themes of the texts.

Despite the strong performances and confident direction, there are too many ideas crammed into each intense, exhausting play.

Kushner’s writing is dense with allusion, quotation and historical reference: these pieces would reward a second viewing – but would anyone have the energy to watch them twice?

Like the neurotic patients and the guilt-ridden First Lady, this production is at bursting point and should be given more space to breathe.

Tiny Kushner is on at The Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn, until 25 September.