Written by Tony Kushner * Directed by Declan Donellan * Starring Linda Emond, Dylan Baker, and Kelly Hutchinson * New York Theater Workshop, NYC, through March 3.
Tony Kushner likes big plays, big subjects, big ideas. His magnum opus was the two-part, seven-hour epic
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, which won everything but the Kentucky Derby when it opened in 1993. Before that, he’d taken on the legacy of the Holocaust in
A Bright Room Called Day, and since then he has ruminated about the collapse of the Soviet Union in
Slavs! His new play, developed over several years, is a nearly four-hour-long, three-act drama about the clash of global and indigenous cultures that focuses, with uncanny prescience, on Afghanistan.
)Rehearsals for the world premiere began after September 11.)
Homebody/Kabul is actually two related plays. The first act, which was performed by itself in London in 1999, is a monologue delivered by an unnamed London housewife who is fixated on the subject of Afghanistan. She begins reading from a guidebook on the city of Kabul that was written in 1965 but now seems like an ancient text. We quickly learn, however, that this is a soul in trouble. Obsessed and scattered at the same time, juggling genuine emotions with the effects of powerful antidepressants, she wanders from topic to topic. She shares tidbits from her extensive if eccentric reading and drops hints about her loveless marriage while narrating in fits and starts the story of a search for party hats that leads her to a life-changing encounter with an Afghan shopkeeper.
We have seen characters like this before. She bears a family resemblance to Harper, the pill-popping Mormon wife in
Angels in America. She has the literary sensibility of the title character in Charles Busch’s
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and an erotic curiosity reminiscent of the character Maggie Smith memorably played in Alan Bennett’s TV monodrama
Bed Among the Lentils. Her feeling of complicity in the sorry state of the world links her to the narrator of Wally Shawn’s monologue
The Fever, and there’s even a trace of Jane Bowles’ crazy wisdom in there. Still,
Homebody is a gem of a one-act play. The writing is some of Kushner’s best ever, luxurious and intense and hilarious, extravagant in a way that might be maddening if it weren’t performed to perfection by Linda Emond. Her nuanced portrait of intelligent despair is a feast all by itself.
Kabul, sorry to say, is no match for Homebody. In it, the woman’s husband and daughter search for her in Afghanistan where she has either a) been beaten to death by a mob or b) fallen in love with a Muslim doctor and taken the veil. A year or even six months ago, this play would have served as a valuable history lesson on a part of the world unknown to virtually every American. Unfortunately, the news has brought us so up-to-date on Afghanistan as to render Kushner’s fantasy version implausible and the father-daughter domestic dramas that he plays out against the war-torn backdrop almost intolerably puny.
February 5, 2002