Friday, June 03, 2011

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures

Michael Cristofer and Linda Emond
(photo: Joan Marcus)

To those who point to previous generations of theatre as being better than this one, I have two words for you: Tony Kushner. (I have two others as well--Lynn Nottage--but that's a different review.) If he had only written Angels in America, Kushner would still be a major American playwright, up there with Williams and Albee and O'Neill. But he didn't only write Angels in America. He also wrote the amazing, heart-breaking Caroline, or Change. And he also wrote the feast that is The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures.

Intelligent Homo tells the story of the Marcantonio family, a tribe of smart, intense, damaged, searching people, loosely led by paterfamilias Gus, a retired longshoreman and union organizer in his 70s. Daughter Empty is a labor lawyer, which would seem to be a way to earn Gus's approbation, but it's not--her work is the wrong sort of activism for him. Older son Pill, a high school history teacher, has been with the same man for 24 years but is in love with the hustler on whom he has spent ten of thousands of dollars. Younger son V is the nonintellectual of the family, a role that was foisted on him and that he wears uncomfortably. All of them want love and acceptance and to understand their place in the world. That's the family drama side of the play.

Then there's the ideas side. As the title states, those ideas include capitalism and socialism, but they also include questions such as, What is a worthwhile life? What is love? And, in particular, What is a good man? The Marcantonios are a family of arguers, and their arguments (depicted in wonderfully hectic scenes) veer from the personal to the political and back again. For this family, the personal genuinely is political.

To get my cavils out of the way: the title is cutesy and misleading;the odd character names come across as mispronunciations of real names; Kushner unfortunately succumbs to lesbians-sleeping-with-men-osis, a disease that is sadly prevalent in movies and shows; and the family's house is perhaps inappropriately impressive.

On the plus side? Intelligence, three-dimensional characters, even-handed discussion of issues, surprising plot points, wonderful dialogue, smart humor, compassion, warmth, and a deep engagement with the world.

The production currently at the Public (coproduced by Signature Theatre) does Kushner full justice. The cast comprises brilliant, subtle performers, led by Michael Cristofer, Stephen Spinella, Linda Emond, and Steven Paquale. Mark Wendland's gorgeous set is a distinct character in the play, full of detail and history and beauty. The costumes by Clint Ramos, the lighting by Kevin Adams, and the sound design by Ken Travis are excellent, and Michael Friedman's music nicely maintains the play's mood during set changes. Michael Greif's superb direction brings all of the elements together into a compelling, impressive, vibrant whole.

(member tickets, 2nd row center)


Anonymous said...

Now I really want to see this. Very interesting review of a show that sounds compelling.

Wendy Caster said...