To write a book about a play using only the words of other people is a somewhat disjointed prospect, and yet, that is exactly what Isaac Butler and Dan Kois set out to do with The World Only Spins Forward, their oral history of Tony Kushner’s play, Angels in America. It is the six degrees of Tony Kushner game, and it totally works.
As someone who loves the theatre and people who create it out of thin air, The World Only Spins Forward is an inside look at elite theatre creators doing some of their best work. We get to hear from artistic directors, actors, critics, scenic designers and more. The book is a lesson in how much time and effort and failure can go into creating something. It is a book about the artistic process. The World Only Spins Forward is a theatre kids dream, and because Angels in America is what it is, a seminal work of the modern theatre, the book ends up being accessible to the not-so-theatre geeky, too.
For those who don’t know, Angels in America is a two part play that was born in the late 1980’s. Its also known as “that gay play” or “the AIDS play” or some other minimizing or condescending, moniker. It is in truth a play that centers the AIDS crisis and gay characters, and it is, of course, much more. And the journey that the play goes on from its inception to the most recent production on Broadway in 2017 is well documented in The World Only Spins Forward.
Butler and Kois are clever in how they mix the mundane details of the theatre with the political implications of full frontal nudity on stage in 1993. They attempt to make the micro macro, and vice versa. Mostly they succeed, though I could have used more context for the times outside of the life of the play (for example, there is no mention of Magic Johnson’s announcement of his AIDS diagnosis, which happened in 1991). I wanted more on how the artists were grappling with real life, and how real life was allowed into this fantasy world.
To read Meryl Streep and Nathan Lane discuss acting and working with great text is one of the many joys of this book. To read truly creative people talk about their process and the obstacles of creating greatness is inspiring. To recognize the power that a piece of theatre can have on the lives of those who see it, and those tangentially connected to it is moving. The World Only Spins Forward gives its readers these things and more.
We have a lot of content about The World Only Spins Forward on the podcast, listen to the episodes below. Bonus, they are both spoiler free.
- Click here to hear Isaac Butler on The Short Stacks talking about The World Only Spins Forward and more.
- Click here to hear The Stacks Book Club conversation on The World Only Spins Forward with Ben Blacker.
- Hardcover: 448
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (February 13, 2018)
- 4/5 stars
- BuyThe World Only Spins Forward Amazon or IndieBound
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