Posts Tagged ‘Tony Kushner’

Review – The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism – Hampstead Theater

November 9, 2016

Okay, guys: I try all of the time to give you reviews that let you know how YOU would feel if you just grabbed a ticket and headed to the theater tonight. But I have to preface this: I’ve seen nearly every major play that Tony Kushner has written, and I do not come at this play without baggage. I am going to dissect IHo (full title THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL’S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES, currently playing at the Hampstead theater) from my particular point of view: as a Kushner enthusiast, as an American, as a small S socialist (I don’t like political parties because I am incapable of toeing any “party line”), as someone who’s been writing plays for three years and has spent the last ten seeing 150 or more plays a year. This review is totally contaminated with my experience and with everything my mind could pull up.

Non-spoilery mini-review: IHo is a flawed work exploring a subculture of Americans (View from the Bridge forty years later) with characters that are so well written they transcend the material. David Calder as patriarch Gus Marcantonio inhabits a man whose influence over his family operates at a near-operatic, Lear-like level of epic, while still being completely believable; Tamsin Grieg, as his daughter, Empty (M. T. Marcantonio) starts from a position of softness and inaccessibility to finish at a point of utter collapse, taking us on a completely believable emotional journey of near-madness, rage, and shock that left me no longer in doubt of why this top shelf actress took a role in a non-West End venue. But their accomplishments as actors and as part of a story-delivering unit are buried beneath a script that is sloppy, overegged, and structurally deficient. This is not a masterwork, despite having a story and characters that can carry it, and at three hours it outstays its welcome by at least 45 minutes. But it may yet redeem itself … in some other form. For now, go see it if you like the author, the subject, or the performers, but be warned the whole is sadly less than the sum of the parts, and you will be heading home at 10:30 most nights.

Now, on with the spoilers. You have been warned.

So, this play, it’s about a family led by a dedicated union organizer and communist (doubtlessly voting Democrat, though) who has decided that he wants to commit suicide and has gathered his adult children to discuss his decision some months after attempting to off himself (unsuccessfully, yet more than enough to traumatize youngest son V/ito – Lex Shrapnel – who had to clean up all of the blood). His three children have all generally followed Dad down the path of socialism, with his bisexual daughter taking up labor law, and his older gay son Pill waving the red flag while teaching high school history (oddly her sexuality matters more to the plot than Pill’s does but hurray for non-bi-invisibility in the theater). Both of the older kids seem to have given up on higher aspirations due to not wanting to break class solidarity; meanwhile the youngest son has chosen a fairly normal life (wife, kids and doing construction work) and while he seems to not embrace socialism, he’s still a huge support to his dad. And just to make everything a bit more messy, Mr. Marcantonio Senior has decided to sell the house for some huge some of money and divide the money amongst his kids … leaving him free to die. So: living dad or giant pile of money? And had dad maybe promised the house to the youngest son? And how does the sister who was a nun and then a member of the Shining Path fit in to all this?

But no, there’s more. Empty is having a baby with her wife, with her youngest brother as the father; older son Pill Marcantonio (Richard Clothier) is having some kind of crisis with his marriage to academic Paul Davis (Rhashan Stone) triggered by his affair with rentboy Eli (Luke Newberry) – providing opportunities to chat about the commodification of sex in the communist economy in an oddly hot way; and there is a MYSTERIOUS SUITCASE that appears toward the end of act two without anyone bothering to open it.

HAVE YOU HAD ENOUGH YET? Well, I’d guess not, because there are plenty of extra plot twists involving sex, sex, more sex, babies, abandonment, money for sex, guilt, betrayal, and money. And capitalism. And some history of the labor movement in America. And if THAT wasn’t enough there are at least two scenes where about five to eight people are all talking over each other and frustratingly NONE OF THEM IS SAYING ANYTHING VERY INTERESTING. I mean, hey, I understand this is how real people talk, but the point of writing a play is not to create an extraordinarily realistic family argument, it’s to make a good play. And let’s be clear, the sex kind of helps make that happen, but there’s too much of it.

And, well, actually, there’s just too much of everything. I began to think there were actually too many characters. The ex-nun didn’t add much to the story, and, while Eli and Pill’s conversations about love and loneliness and trying to connect rang very true to me, Pill’s husband seemed a completely unimportant and ill-fleshed out character and I came to the end of the play thinking that actually it would be better if all three of them went as they didn’t really move the narrative forward or add anything necessary to the plot. I began to wonder if Kushner simply couldn’t axe them because they were his “ins” to the narrative; but given how disposable the Pill storyline was, I feel like just two siblings would have made so much more sense, and probably the whole baby plot could go too.

Frustratingly, the third act had a series of scenes that seemed highly necessary (mostly) but didn’t gel, and I got the feeling that maybe these were the things that Kushner constructed his story around, but then was unable to smoothly work back into the narrative. And this is why I feel like this play is interesting but flawed. It seems like a work in progress; it needs lots of cutting and it has too much that does not cohere. We get to enjoy some stupendous performances, and there are some good characters in there, but … it needs scissors. And then, maybe, we can have a great play. Right now, it’s interesting, but not enough for the investment in time. With luck he’ll rethink what he’s doing, ditch most of the noisy arguments, give up on the Macguffin, and then it’ll transfer and be a much better show.

(This is a review for a performance that took place on on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016. It continues through November 26th.)

Review – The Illusion – Southwark Playhouse

August 30, 2012

An empty Tuesday night in the quiet month of August: what to do? I scanned a friend’s Google calendar for recently viewed plays and saw he’d just been to the Southwark Playhouse for The Illusion. Ooh, an eminently affordable location – but a running time of 150 minutes. And it was about a lawyer who’d cast out his son? Hmm, hard to make a decision with the fleeting time allowed me at work to do the hard research on picking the right (and only) show I would see for two weeks. “Was it good?” I asked him via Twitter. “Yes” was my reply. So, then, I booked (hurray for having bought a Southwark Playhouse 5 ticket package and forgotten about it, so no cost), and by good fortune I discovered another Twitter friend was going the same night so I’d have someone to socialize with … ah, the world of social networking, it’s a wild one!

The play is set in a magician’s cave in what appears to be some time in the 17th century. The cafe is pretty much just – well, the Southwark Playhouse – with some cloth-covered furniture on the side of the stage to add some dimensionality. A black-suited man (Pridamant, James Clyde) enters and haughtily demands the cowering servant to fetch his mistress – the woman (Melanie Jessop) who is a magician (a woman in power, hurray!). He wants to know what happened to his son, whom he cast out years ago for reasons I never quite understood. He and the woman engage in some power play, but she finally agrees to show him his son. She then enchants him – and a group of cream clad, masked characters creeps out from the wings (or, if you prefer, from deep within the cave). The first (very handsome!) young man removes his mask, and … it’s Clindor, Pridamant’s son!

Before I say much more of anything about the play, I want to say that at this point I was sucked into the world of the show and lost my critical distance. Were we seeing Pridamant’s actual son? Were we seeing the minions of Alcandre performing the life of Clindor? Was this a ghostly vision, in which, through the mirror of the past, the true experiences of Clindor were being displayed? How was it that the servant was able to perform in the masques? Were the various performers supposed to be real people or perhaps the representations of various types, i.e. the ingenue, the scheming servant, the ridiculous fop (Adam Jackson-Smith, hysterical and, I suspect, well worth seeing again)? These puzzles, and the evolution of the father as he sees the changes in his son’s life through the various scenes (one wonders, for example, just why he wants to know what has happened to his son), kept my mind occupied enough that, even though at the end there was a grand reveal and a real theatrical joke played upon us (and Pridamant), I found myself unwilling to accept the script as written and instead kept puzzling through the various intriguing mysteries to find the real, underlying truth of the play.

To make it even a bit more delicious, the script, by a pre-Angels Tony Kushner, is full of poetry and lush phrases that manage to make the era in which the play is set come more brightly to life. I say this because rhyming plays were how things were done back when Corneille wrote this show, but obviously aren’t now; yet there are some rhyming sections and they are done in a way that is fresh and pleasant to the ear. Aaah.

Right. So, in short, I found this play charming, the performances good (I saw the younger actors as being “types” rather than actual characters, so keep this in mind if you’re finding my judgment not in synch with yours), and the evening much more brisk than you might have expected of a play supposedly so long. Given how much incredibly stale stuff is on the stages of London right now, this was as much of an unexpected treat as a crocus in February snow. Thanks to Tim for the hot tip!

(This review is for a performance that took place Tuesday, August 28th, 2012. The play continues through September 8th.)