REVIEW: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide
To Capitalism and Socialism
With a Key to the Scriptures
at Curious Theatre
by Owen Niland
Tony Kushner’s obnoxiously titled work, mercifully abbreviated “iHo”, is not the longest title of a renowned play to my knowledge. That distinction would go to the full 26-word name of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade; however the old joke still applies, “Did you see the play?” “No… but I read the title.”
The title is sourced from George Bernard Shaw’s “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism” and Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy’s seminal work “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”. To dissect the title is merely the first step in unwinding the myriad of literary influences Kushner references in this complex piece. Even beyond Shaw and Eddy, one also feels the weight of literary heritage such as Anton Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard”, Arthur Miller’s “View From the Bridge”, and, due primarily to the author’s indubitable voice, Kushner’s own masterwork “Angels In America”.
In iHo, Kushner, never shy to explore grand and incendiary topics, tackles just about everything we’re cautioned against discussing in polite society: sex, politics and religion; all under the guise of the fractious, demonstrative, manipulative, frustrating, but ultimately loving Marcantonio family.
Summoned by father Gus (Lawrence Hecht), an aging longshoreman and labor organizer with deep ties to the Communist Party in the U.S., the family convenes to discuss his decision to end his life (after a failed suicide attempt a year prior). We have in attendance daughter Empty (short for Maria Teresa/M.T) (Dee Covington) a former nurse and current labor lawyer with a pregnant lesbian partner, elder son Pill (otherwise Pier Luigi/P.L.) (Matthew Schneck), a gay high school teacher torn between his theologian husband and an obsession for a twinky Ivy League-educated hustler, youngest son V (short for Vito) (Justin Walvoord), a hetero contractor who has consciously rejected the family’s pro-Union background, and Gus’s sister Clio (Anne Oberbroeckling), a one-time Carmelite nun, reformed Maoist and now quasi-Christian Scientist.
Further complicating the plot are Pill, Empty and V’s spouses – Paul Davis (Kirkaldy Myers), Maeve Ludens (Karen Slack), and Sooze Moon (Desirée Mee Jung) – as well as Empty’s ex-husband Adam Harvey (Brian Landis Folkins), who, conveniently enough, is both Gus’ tenant in the basement apartment of the family brownstone and his realtor. Maeve is pregnant by sperm donor V, after losing the $30,000 she and Empty had put away for quality sperm as a loan to Pill to finance his addiction to hustler Eli (Luke Sorge), a relationship which caused Pill and Paul to abandon their lives in New York for the sticks of St Paul, MN.
Needless to say the Marcantonios are the most modern of modern families, and they heap a lot on the plate of director Chip Walton to dish out to the audience.
Certain scenes of the production are themselves a master class in theatrical staging. Walton elegantly choreographs the family’s ongoing and, more often than not, overlapping conversations. In an operatic manner, especially in the second act, Watson conducts upwards of nine of the eleven actors in the production on stage at once in competing escalating arguments, while never letting the cacophony of individual performances overwhelm the interpersonal relationships Kushner’s script strives to build. It would be easy in less skilled hands for the audience to lose sense of where to focus their attention during this dissonant clamor, but here you’re pulled in and actively listening for where the action shifts next.
It’s these scenes of familial discord which brings to life what could otherwise be a cool cerebral play; however, in less energetic portions, such as the smaller scenes between Pill and hustler Eli, or Empty and ex-husband Adam, the play begins to sag under Kushner’s didactic dialogue, losing the humanity of the characters in favor of a dry examination of life through the lens of Marxist thought.
The performances here are each worthy of note. Hecht’s Gus anchors the production with a sense of loss, resignation and regret; Oberbroeckling’s Clio brings a resonating and quiet world-weary quality to her performance, which could easily be lost among such demonstrative personalities; and the children – Covington’s Empty, Schneck’s Pill and Walvoord’s V – each echo aspects of Gus’ own personality in their performances fully capturing the complex family dynamic.
Curious Theater Company has elegantly crafted a challenging, flawed, yet compelling work by a contemporary American master. It is exciting, intellectual theater which will stay with you beyond the curtain call.
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures is playing now through April 15th at Curious Theatre. Because of the length of the show, all performances start at 6:30pm – there will be two intermissions. For tickets or more information contact the Curious Theatre Box Office by calling 303-623-0524 or online at www.curioustheatre.org.