It’s only been about 10 hours since curtain call so my mind hasn’t quite yet figured out what Tony Kushner’s new play is really all about, but I know it deserves some thought and discussion. I’m not sure how to wrap my head around it all.
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures is a long play. Yes, longer than its title. It’s also a work in progress, as made evident by the uneven production we saw last night and a script that repeats itself and stagnates as it traverses a muddy patch. There were moments when I felt like I was watching actors about half-way through a rehearsal process. None of it ever completely fell apart or became unpresentable, although there were actually a few time when I thought actors were wondering whose line it was. Those moments were followed by someone flicking a switch and the whole scene coming in to focus.
There’s one such scene that really stuck out to me. An aunt and niece are having a conversation in the attic. The aunt sits on the floor, the niece is pacing, the scene goes along fine, and then….the niece stops where she is, kneeling on the floor at this point, and the whole thing becomes…paced…and less nuanced, mined, explored. Suddenly it feels like good actors who are off book and still working out the ways of the scene. No one moves from their place. No one acts with her whole body. And even though they’re discussing a tragic thing that will likely happen the next day, revealing something horrible—it all feels a bit emotionally detached. This must be the newer material. Perhaps some of the stuff that actors were holding pages in their hands for previews.
Then suddenly, it all comes to life again, clips along, emotionally and purposefully charged.
There are a few brilliant scenes where the entire family, and I mean all 8 or 9 people on stage at once, are fighting. I thought this sounded perfectly normal—it’s how my family fights. There were 2 or 3 or 4 arguments happening at once, all talking over each other. But after about 5 or 6 or 7 or…minutes, it all starts to be a bit much. (This needs some shaping, Mr. Playwright and Mr. Director. I mean, it’s effective but only if the audience’s attention is drawn to the right thing at the right moment, to make it effective. And only if this technique isn’t overused.)
Being mired down in the mud is what this play does at times. Later there’s a long, repetitive scene between the father and daughter…it’s well done, but it really goes nowhere, doesn’t teach us anything new, doesn’t move the story along, doesn’t reveal anything…..However, it does bring us to one of the best and most riveting moments and lines that the play offers. For me, it was one of those moments where I realized I just audibly gasped in my response to the beauty and truth and honesty expressed.
Then I immediately thought: “Wow, that whole long drawn out scene just to get to that.” and pondered if it was worth it. I decided it may have been, but I think there’s a shorter path there that would cause less audience squirming.
This deserves more thought. The play and my experience of it. I almost want to see it again. I can’t possibly regurgitate and process it all at once.
It’s epic in its scope, and excruciating in its ideological and philosophical theorization and expression.
Yes, that too.