Voice and Dialect Consultant for Tony Kushner's premiere at the Guthrie Theater, directed by Michael Greif, 2008-2009 Season. Also coach for Tiny Kushner, a collection of Kushner short plays, directed by Tony Taccone.
The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures
(Guthrie Theater/McGuire Proscenium Stage, Minneapolis; 700 seats; $60 top)
VARIETY/May 26, 2009
By QUINTON SKINNER
A Guthrie Theater presentation of a play in three acts by Tony Kushner. Directed by Michael Greif.
Adam Butler - Mark Benninghofen
Benedicta Immacolata Marcantonio
(Bennie) - Kathleen Chalfant
Marcantonio - Sun Mee Chomet
Augusto Giuseppe Garibaldi
Marcantonio (Gus) - Michael Cristofer
Maria Teresa Marcantonio
(Empty) - Linda Emond
Eli Wolcott - Michael Esper
Maeve Ludens - Charity Jones
(V, Vic, Vinnie) - Ron Menzel
Shelle O'Neill - Michelle O'Neill
Paul Pierce - Michael Potts
Pier Luigi Marcantonio (Pill) - Stephen Spinella
There was considerable anticipatory buzz at the Guthrie about Tony Kushner's "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures," with much of the buzz questioning the play's scope and ambitions. Opening night was postponed a week, with Kushner reportedly rewriting down to the wire, and early previews had pushed past the four-hour mark -- none of which necessarily presaged disaster but certainly fueled curiosity. The resulting three-act drama is a success -- sprawling, yearning, at times emotionally violent, it is also packed with a level of complexity, sophistication and understanding that distinguishes it as a potentially important new American work.
Marcantonio family patriarch Gus (Michael Cristofer) summons his three children and his sister to his Brooklyn brownstone. A seasoned longshoreman and ardent Marxist, Gus has one primary item on his agenda: gaining his brood's assent to make good on his earlier suicide attempt.
The Marcantonio reaction is hardly sedate; this clan spends a good deal of time shouting, across the room and into one another's faces. The most chagrined is working-class son Vito (Ron Menzel, lending pained sensitivity), though labor-lawyer daughter Empty (Linda Emond) and failed academic Pill (Stephen Spinella) are similarly troubled by the announcement.
Meanwhile, sitting quietly is Gus' sister Bennie (Kathleen Chalfant), a former nun-turned-Maoist, who dispenses gnomic one-liners and serves as one of several moral centers to the work. (Empty later shouts at her to stop talking like Yoda; we hear Kushner's inner critic having a laugh.) In the early going, Bennie signals how ambiguous matters are going to become.
There's a great deal of business for these people to work out, and here, as in life, lulls of peace are truly intermissions amid the turmoil. "Intelligent Homosexual" surprises, though, in its resolute pragmatism: The action is all naturalistic, with long scenes that play out as family drama, roaring emotion clashing with decades of unspoken resentment; the feints, parries and misdirection of contemporary communication are rendered in lavish detail.
To say Kushner is working at a high level is an understatement. Every passion in these characters' lives is a contradiction, each pleasure arriving with thorny conditions. And in fusing the thunderclaps of intense family life with the politics of labor (including the biological kind), the writer connects the mundane and the lofty with a scope that suggests an affectionate nod to English-language naturalists such as Arthur Miller.
Mark Wendland's set slides and moves and grounds the eye with detail to underpin the action (Gus' old hardcover books are stacked high in the dining room, the old autodidact having taken to translating Latin to fill his inner void). Another asset is that director Michael Greif's cast (a number of them veterans of previous Kushner productions) brings knowing subtlety to the playwright's text, as well as ample ability to ratchet up the volume.
Ultimately, Kushner leaves himself open to charges of overreaching, unfocused ambition, perhaps even hubris. But that's to be expected when aiming for this kind of scope. Kushner's great themes are here: change, work and the understanding that every element of life shifts when held up at a slightly different angle.
Performed by lesser talents, the work would likely be an unbearable mess. But this premiere production (the centerpiece of the Guthrie's Kushner Celebration) aptly uncovers the play's restlessness, striving and unapologetic requirement to work through the circles of its own mad but hauntingly real complexities.
Sets, Mark Wendland; costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, Kevin Adams; sound, Ken Travis; voice and dialect consultant, Elisa Carlson; production stage manager, Martha Kulig. Opened, reviewed May 22, 2009. Running time: 3 HOURS, 40 MIN.
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