Tony Kushner, the Pultzer Prize award-winning screenwriter and man behind the script for the critically acclaimed Lincoln seems to have been destined for greatness as a child.
“I can tell you that, from a bystander, Tony Kushner was brilliant as a child,” says Sandy Mugnier, a longtime friend of Kushner’s mother, Sylvia. “We thought he was very precocious — he wasn’t precocious, he was brilliant. When he was 7, 8 years old, he was doing things like making place cards for the dining table when his parents entertained. On one occasion, the place cards were James Thurber drawings — from a child of 8!”
Kushner grew up in Lake Charles in a family that served as the city’s cultural royalty. His mother was a bassoonist and his father a clarinetist; both were music professors at McNeese State University after playing in the New York City Opera orchestra; his father, William, was the director of the Lake Charles Symphony from 1978 to 2008. His brother, Eric, plays French horn in the Vienna Symphony and his sister, Lesley, has also moved to New York. Sylvia died in 1990 and his father in March of this year. Kushner fled Lake Charles in 1974 for Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in medieval studies, and went on to New York University’s Graduate Acting Program, finishing in 1984.
Kushner essentially put Lake Charles, a city where he never quite belonged, on the map when he won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, in 1993. He won two Tony Awards in a row for Best Play: in 1993 for Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and in ’94 for Angels in America: Perestroika. He was nominated twice in 2004 for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score for Caroline, or Change.
“My husband and I were in Greece, and we were on a tour bus and we were seeing some of the sights,” recalls Mugnier, laughing, “and I picked up a newspaper and I was reading it while the bus was taking us to the next historical monument, and there was this little tiny three-by-five article about Tony Kushner winning the Pulitzer Prize. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, here I am in Greece and I’m reading about Sylvia’s son Tony.’ It just shows you how small the world is.”
Kushner, now 56, is in the spotlight again as Oscar buzz surrounds his screenplay for Lincoln, a collaboration with Steven Spielberg starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Kushner, collaborating with Eric Roth, worked with Spielberg once before on the screenplay for 2005’s Munich, but this time is the sole author of the script based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
“It was very scary,” Kushner said in a recent interview with Stephen Colbert. “I didn’t want to do it originally because I didn’t know if it was going to be possible. Doris Kearns Goodwin is a very persuasive and lovely person and a really great writer, and she talked me into it. And I loved working with Steven on Munich, so I figured it was a good thing to try.”
The Lincoln screenplay took Kushner six years to complete, mainly because of his apprehension regarding Lincoln’s legacy. “There are some human beings — Shakespeare, Mozart — that do things that defy human comprehension,” Kushner said at the PEN World Voices Festival in April. “They’re just better than us. Lincoln was one of them.” But Kushner’s works are not fluff — they tackle some of the most controversial issues of the day, and Kushner believes there are parallels between today’s political dysfunction and that of Lincoln’s time. But he also believes that theater and democracy are natural partners. “You know, the Athenians invented two things simultaneously: theater, and democracy,” he observed at the same festival. “And the thing that perhaps connects these two things is compassion. It’s the building of community and empathy.”
“I find his work ever-growing and improving on the basic foundation, which is his — in my opinion — commentary on social injustice in our culture,” says Mugnier. “I don’t think you can read anything that Tony Kushner has written and not understand and feel moved by the issue of his writings and the themes, the various themes that he repeats over and over again.
“I think one of the things that amazes me, and I’m a literature person, but one of the things I find so interesting is that Tony’s works are tough to read,” says Mugnier. “You feel like somebody has just hit you in the gut and you can’t ignore the power of his work. Here, I remember him as a talented, precocious, beautiful boy — gentle and loving. To be able to write as passionately as he does about social issues is genius to me.”
Project Front Yard has been launched to help us change our image and our habits.
Alleged victim is a Navy vet with brain trauma resulting from a car accident three decades ago.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Richard Buswell was sentenced Tuesday to more than 10 years in prison for his role in an investment scheme that defrauded his clients of more than $6 million.
The Latin Music Festival returns to Parc International this Saturday, Oct. 4, from noon to 10 p.m.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
Security breach at White House; Bejing won't back down from protesters; pressure on third-graders and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 30, 2014.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Lafayette Regional seeking new leadership after longtime director Greg Roberts’ June resignation.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
T&T show behind the scenes
Four bedroom in Breaux Bridge or four bedroom in Opelousas
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.
The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999.
The state labor department figures released Friday show the initial claims decreased to 2,068 from the previous week's total of 2,071. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 2,494 claims.
Museum of Fear opens its 2014 season with more scares than ever before.