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Art Leonard Observations

“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures” – Tony Kushner’s latest at the Public Theater

Posted on: May 8th, 2011 by Art Leonard No Comments

Last night I saw a performance of Tony Kushner's latest big play, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures," at New York's Public Theater.  The show officially opened just a few days earlier, generating a spate of reviews in the daily newspapers on Friday, so I was reasonably well-informed about what to expect, and the reviews seemed reasonably accurate.

This is a very lengthy "dysfunctional family" saga, with many thought-provoking moments.  I found the first act to be tediously over-extended, but the second act was totally captivating and brilliantly paced, and the third act, although once again perhaps a bit overextended, kept my attention throughout.  Kushner's imagination was really working overtime here, spewing forth dialogue in such profusion that at times most of the characters were speaking simultaneously – creating scenes of enhanced realism in that respect.

The cast is extraordinary, but I would award pride of place to Steven Pasquale, who portrays Vito Marcantonio, referred to through the play as "V", the younger brother.  In the performance I saw he - of all those on stage - seemed to fully embody his character and to inject the most passion into the role.  But they were all excellent, each in their way: Michael Cristofer as the elderly paterfamilias who is blatantly manipulating his children, their partners, and his sister, with his eagerness to end his life; Stephen Spinella as the older son, uncomfortable in his gay life, feeling inferior to his more intellectual (and hotter) partner, fleeing into the arms of a hustler with whom he can relax into a more comforting physicality; Linda Emond as the daughter, a lawyer and the biggest professional achiever whose life has perhaps most played out along the lines her father might have taken had he achieved higher education, and Brenda Wehle as sister/aunt.  The partners were all well portrayed, and I actually thought that Danielle Skraastad, K. Todd Freeman, and Hettienne Park were all at times more interesting as characters in their reaction to the unfolding plot than the family members with whom they were partnered.  Matt Servitto as sister's ex-husband and Michael Esper as the gay "hustler" — whose status as such was uncertain at least some of the time as he seemed to want to evolve into boyfriend material for older brother — provided some of the comic relief and salaciousness, and finally Molly Price as the woman who would instruct Poppa how to "off" himself played things just right.

Tony Kushner is much in the news just now due to the blundering of the City University of New York Board of Trustees in the matter of his honorary degree from John Jay College.  I hope they get that sorted out.  This play proves, if further proof were needed, that Kushner is one of those rare talents – a creative artist who can prod us all to think more deeply about our lives, our commitments, our entanglements, our hopes and our dreams.   His creations may be imperfect, but they are genuine creations far beyond what anybody on that incompetent board could be capable.  Imagine that such relative mental midgets are purporting to pass some sort of "political correctness" judgment on him, in a flawed process based on second-hand distortion and hearsay introduced by a political appointee whose qualifications to sit as a trustee of a major university are questionable at best…  I hope the responsible appointing authorities for that board will be inspired by this incident to do some house-cleaning.

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