(Robert Hurwitt's article appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, October 23.)

Tiny Kushner: Five one-act plays. By Tony Kushner. Directed by Tony Taccone. With J.C. Cutler, Kate Eifrig, Jim Lichtscheidl and Valeri Mudek. Through Nov. 29. Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Two hours, 15 minutes. $16-$86. (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org. 

Two former first ladies, a trip to the moon, dozens of tax-evading New York cops, and variations on Hitler, Dostoyevsky, Nixon, George W. Bush, Thoreau and Shakespeare – Tony Kushner may be incapable of thinking small.

That broad reach and Kushner's eclectic, wicked wit make for a great deal of charm and excitement in "Tiny Kushner," an anthology of five short plays that opened Wednesday at Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Thrust Stage. It also weighs down the plays a bit too much to let the entire evening take flight.

Flashes of penetrating comedy and theatrical strokes light up the stage, fully exploited by director Tony Taccone and four versatile actors from Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater, where "Tiny" premiered in June. Hefty political and moral issues dance with buoyant shtick, and some lines jolt us with typical Kushner prescience (the aside, "Nixon was the last Republican president who believed in regulation" was written in 2001.)

In many respects, it's impressive how well the five plays fit together, because they were written at different times for different purposes. But some seams show. Three were occasional pieces, essays in dialogue in response to specific events. Though one of these allows Laura Bush to emerge as the evening's dominant dramatic force, the others get bogged down in a little too much information.

"Flip Flop Fly!" and "Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker in Paradise" were creative obituaries for the New York Times Magazine. "Fly" is the more entertaining of the two. Staged on Alexander V. Nichols' cleverly projected moonscape, it's a crisply performed vaudeville duet for a brash American self-promoter (Valeri Mudek), who claimed to have recorded an album while on the moon, and a self-important minor European royal, Queen Geraldine of Albania (Kate Eifrig).


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