note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
The Homebody … Nancy E. Carroll
Milton Ceiling … Bill Molnar
Priscilla Ceiling … Helen McElwain
Dr. Qari Shah; Border Guard … Sujoy De
Mahala … Michelle Dowd
Zai Garshi; Munkrat … Paul Giragos
Quango Twistleton … Nathaniel McIntyre
Khwaja Aziz Mondanabosh … John Sarrouf
Mullah Ali Aftar Durranni … Amar Srivastava
I have always found Tony Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA to be a long, sprawling, and shapeless work --- one of those Great American Somethings where bulk equals importance (one cannot ignore a charging bull elephant for long) --- the acclaimed television adaptation warmed up the characters considerably but turned it all into a soap opera with special effects. Having recently read Harlan Ellison’s THE GLASS TEAT, his heated attack on how television helped to make mainstream America stupid and complacent in the 1960s, I can better appreciate all of Mr. Kushner’s lecturing posing as drama: Mr. Ellison’s snotty style of journalism takes some getting used to but the more I read the better I could understand and appreciate his stance --- if Mr. Ellison was screaming at the top of his lungs it was at a country that he felt had turned deaf, dumb and blind thanks to television’s power to soothe and un-enlighten (the situation hasn’t changed, all that much). Mr. Kushner is/was a similar Angry Young Man, his ANGELS IN AMERICA a fist in the gut of the Reagan era that chose to ignore the sudden AIDS epidemic; there were similar dramas such as THE NORMAL HEART and AS IS but ANGELS IN AMERICA surpassed them, Big Time, and got its message heard worldwide by Mr. Kushner pulling out all the stops and going for Grand Opera --- no playwright needs to write anymore about that phase of AIDS history (even ANGELS IN AMERICA now seems nostalgic); Mr. Kushner and others need to tackle the latest epidemic due to gay men no longer practicing safe sex, fueled by the latest designer drugs.
Boston Theatre Works’ production of Mr. Kushner’s HOMEBODY/KABUL, written before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center but since revised, will have closed by the time you read these scribbles: it, too, swallows great chunks of today’s world scene but manages to keep it all down: an eccentric English housewife (the Homebody) flies to Afghanistan on a whim, having fallen in love with the city of Kabul after reading an outdated travel guide. Her husband and daughter follow in pursuit only to find that the Homebody has disappeared altogether, the Kabul of today is no longer the Kabul of 1965, and the line between truth and lies is insanely blurred: there are conflicting reports that the Homebody has been murdered or has renounced her lifestyle and married a Mohammedan; the Homebody’s new husband (unseen) offers his mad ex-wife in exchange but the woman turns out to be a zealously concerned ex-librarian; a professional travel guide leading the daughter through Kabul’s maze gives her a roll of his poetry written in Esperanto which could be information he wants smuggled out of the country; and so on. HOMEBODY/KABUL is a mixture of burning-hot fascination and moments that cry out for editing --- the Homebody’s opening monologue is a forty-five minute tour-de-force rather than a characterization; the remaining two hours alternate one location with another (i.e. “meanwhile, back at the hotel…”) --- and whenever the natives turned adorable, as natives in American plays often do, I expected them to smile, shrug with palms upwards and utter, “Oy!” Like ANGELS IN AMERICA, none of HOMEBODY/KABUL’s characters are all that loveable --- the playwright’s characteristic or failing? --- yet I wasn’t bored for a moment though I’m sure many in the audience went away disappointed when the Homebody’s disappearance was left unresolved.
Director Jason Southerland and Nancy E. Carroll as the Homebody had their work cut out for them: Mr. Southerland had to make this behemoth dance and Ms. Carroll had to talk Kushner-Speak from a postage-stamp kitchen, her only props being her guide-book and a shopping bag of Mid-Eastern hats. Fortunately, HOMEBODY/KABUL knows exactly where it’s charging --- straight down the middle, looking neither left nor right --- and Mr. Southerland seemed content to stay out of its path for the most part; whatever route Ms. Carroll chose to reach her finish line the results were most impressive, the sounds and rhythms being just as important as all that chatter. I pictured the Homebody as an English Mum; Ms. Carroll made her more of a spinster bookworm to compliment Michelle Dowd’s impassioned “other” wife/librarian and justified the Homebody’s sudden flight to Dreamland. Helen McElwain was fine as the troubled daughter despite a sing-song British accent; if I am often hard on Ms. McElwain that is because she is better at drama than comedy; she was quite the live wire, here. Bill Molnar was vocally impressive as the Homebody’s husband but played the role in a vacuum --- I got no sense of the missing limb that was his wife --- and Nathaniel McIntyre was too healthy-looking as a N.G.O. official equally addicted to Kabul, whiskey and drugs. John Sarrouf brought a touching dignity to the poet-guide who would be the Good Indian in a Western and I found Sujoy De, Paul Giragos and Amar Srivastava all too convincing as various members of mob-rule --- Mr. De’s rotund little Guard, polishing his machine gun in sleepy irritation, put back the terror in Terrorism --- I confess I felt both relief and shame when three friendly, smiling actors stood before me at curtain call; you see, I was one of those sealed-off children of the 1960s and am still smarting from Harlan Ellison’s belated chastening.