- The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures
Commissioned by the Guthrie Theater, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures had its world premiere during the Guthrie’s Kushner Celebration (also featuring productions of Caroline, or Change and Tiny Kushner: An Evening of Short Plays). The Guthrie web site featured such celebratory activities as a “Plan Your Kushner Getaway” and a Kushner shop (“buy an origami wallet!”). In other words, capitalism was alive and well at the Guthrie Theater, and Kushner was on the market. Intelligent Homosexual, which so strongly critiques the reifications of capitalism, lost resonance when performed amid this bourgeois theatrical bonanza. Starting his critique with a love affair conducted through cell phones, Kushner traces the alienation borne of our technologically mediated, market-driven society as it dissolves the social fabric: friend, family member, and citizen are all abandoned and abandoning in the post-union landscape of the United States. Kushner’s script, Mark Wendland’s set, and, less successfully, Michael Greif’s direction all foregrounded the displacement and despair of the individual adrift in the “globalized” world of twenty-first-century capitalism.
Kushner’s play centers on the Italian American Marcantonio family. The patriarch, Gus (Michael Cristofer), distant cousin to the real-life radical congressman Vito Marcantonio and heir to his family’s anarcho-communist past, fears the onset of Alzheimer’s. With one attempted suicide under his belt, he argues for his family’s support to try again. His sister Bennie (Kathleen Chalfant), his son Pill (Stephen Spinella) with husband Paul (Michael Potts), his daughter Empty (Linda Emond) with her pregnant girlfriend Maeve (Charity Jones) and her ex-husband Adam (Mark Benninghofen), his son Vic (Ron Menzel) with his wife Sooze (Sun Mee Chomet) fight, think, and respond not only to Gus’s request to die, but to their own problematic and strangely solitary existences in the midst of this contemporary extended family.
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The personal, as Kushner has shown throughout his oeuvre, is never without the political: Gus’s politics belong to a disappearing history of communist activism and union organizing (union activity that for Gus’s son Vic caused the nation’s current economic ruin). It is not just that this political history is fading and failed—a collective social Alzheimer’s—but the very ability of human beings to connect as a political and social organism is dying. Betrayal and alienation define this family and [End Page 623] the society that forms it. The children of Reagan, “selfish and greedy and loveless and blind,” who peopled Angels of America are now the children of an even more alienated and alienating age: the age of iPods and neo-liberalism. Pill cheats on Paul with the young hustler Eli (Michael Esper), while Eli, seemingly the body reified, loves and is then left by Pill. Vic cursorily slept with sister Empty’s lesbian lover Maeve, impregnating her with a child Empty doesn’t want. The nonfamilial Adam buys the family home to bring back his sometime lover, always ex, Empty.
Not only do these personal relationships reflect the inability to form lasting human connections in the present sociopolitical world, but the family itself has lost its connection to the past, to its lineage. Personal amnesia becomes collective as Gus incinerates the family archives. Aunt and niece are left contemplating their loss of family history in a room framed by the fractured, increasingly de-historicized skyline of New York City, where the profits of quick development have destroyed the concept of home . . . a place to belong throughout time.
Wendland’s set, visually bracketing off one scene from another on the proscenium stage, highlighted the abject isolation of characters bereft of temporal, spatial...