Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Homebody/Kabul"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Larry Stark


by Tony Kushner
Directed by Jason Southerland

Assistant Director Kathryn Walsh
Set Designed by Zeynep Bakkal
Lighting by John Malinowski
Costumes Designed by Nancy Lynn Leary
Assistant Costume Designer Amy Wright
Sound Designed by K. Bud Durand
Production Dramaturg Bridget Frey
Dialect Consultant Laura Hitt
Line Producer Jennifer Nario
Production Manager/Technical Director Stephen R. Larrett
Props/Run Crew Jessica Flaherty
Assistant Stage Manager Carola Morrone
Producion Stage Manager Melanie R. Mather

The Homebody..................Nancy 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 to write a review of "Homebody/Kabul". It's been two days now, and the lead sentence hasn't coalesced, but there sits the program inches from my left hand, intimidating me, reproaching me, pleading silently for attention. And I liked the play. No, I know I Usually like plays, but I REALLY like this one (likED this one? No, I still like it, but I liked sitting there seeing this big, sprawling play [HEARing this play? No, people Hear operas; they See plays]) and it's a big play --- I mean it comes with major baggage, attention from The NY TIMES and Tony Kushner's reputation, and everybody probably Thinks they know all about it before they even buy the tickets, but it Is as I keep saying a big, Sprawling play, it's not an Easy play (The person sitting next to me... well, taking the empty seat next to me in one of the TWO intermissions... he apparently found it hard to like, If he liked it at all, at least he didn't sound overjoyed in a comment to a friend) but it's a Good sprawling play saying so very much about Afghanistan and Afghanis and America's Peculiar foreign affairs (foreign Relations?) and maybe if I can write a good, proper review it will help people Like this Big, in so many different ways, play that I really Did like So Very Much. Maybe that will help. Maybe though, I ought to go have breakfast first. Maybe That will help that all-important lead sentence coalesc. (How do you SPELL coalesce????? Maybe I've chosen the wrong career.)

Okay, "Homebody/Kabul" which will be at The BCA till only the 19th, centers around a woman whose reading about it made her fall so in love with Afghanistan that she went there --- maybe to visit the perhaps apocryphal tomb of Cain ("The inventor of murder"! What a great line). It really begins (There's that "monologue" but I'll get to that later) with her computer-scientist husband (brilliantly played by Bill Molnar) and her 30-something daughter (again brilliantly played by Helen McElwain) who was once hospitalized after a suicide attempt --- both of them in Kabul because they've been told the Taliban stoned her to death for not wearing a totally-enveloping Burkha (which I have never seen Spelled) --- but there is no body, and a professional sightseeing guide (Look, everybody acts often Better than I've ever seen them before, but I can't sort out all the foreign names; I apologize to these excellent actors!) and poet (in Esperanto!) says he Knows she is alive, trying to escape her identity and marry a Mohammedan. There is also a young N.G.O. official (Nathaniel McIntyre) (who shares his whiskey and opium but prefers to shoot heroin [on stage]) who "knows" she is dead. Whether any of these people know anything close to The truth, or whether they are all cleverly lying to use these tranquilizer-besotted English to get what they want. (One of them actually succeeds...)

So go to the BCA prepared to see a big, sprawling, inconclusive, exciting play excellently acted (and probably excellently directed too, but you never SEE great Directing; people experience the story and maybe notice the acting too, right Jason Southerland? Nobody notices directing unless the A.R.T. throws it in your face, right?) --- not Just for the monologue.

See, in order to account for a British "homebody" going to and (maybe) dying in Afghanistan, Tony Kushner had to work his way into the eliptically spiraling mind of that woman. And this isn't "sub-text" --- the research and notes that should be the unseen 9/10ths of the play with only the dialogue as the Visible iceberg --- it's necessary information, and it not only introduces husband and daughter and the wife they're seeking, it illuminates Afghanistan itself and its labyrinthine complexities. But it's Not A Monologue!

Well, I didn't find it a monologue. It is a conversation, however self-absorbed, between a woman who reads too much and thinks somewhat like I do, talking to someone (The Audience, natch) who says nothing. She's tranquilized to the eyeballs and knows too much that must be noted in asides and maybe she's occasionally borderline delusional, but she keeps coming back to hats. "Parties, to me, mean hats" she insists, and in her eliptical spiralings Hats serve as a sort of thumb-tack holding the whole thing together. And I kissed her.

Well, I kissed Nancy Carroll (I Asked Her Permission Before I Did It!). I don't kiss actresses, actually (Now HUGS are a different matter, as lots of actors, even of both sexes, will tell. But if you can't hug a Play, well... Next Best Thing, right?), but I was sitting in the middle of the first row in the center-section deeply involved in a conversation with a woman whose mind was much like my own and, somewhere in the middle of the conversation I decided, if she'd let me, I'd kiss her. And I cannot say whether it was just her I kissed, or the woman who was Amanda at The Lyric Stage Company a few weeks ago or the Mrs. Lovitt showing those Gorgeous dancer's legs and acting with her feet, or maybe I just kissed the best actress in Boston. Because Nancy Carroll loves "The Homebody" just as much as I do. (I won't try to do it again. But should She want to kiss Me I certainly won't refuse!)

Oh, one Important Thing More:
The play happens in 1998, with Clinton in our White House, after the Taliban War of Resistance caused the Soviet Union to implode and won America's Cold War for us, when America was beginning to see Muslim Nationalism and Afghan Nationalism as the threat Al Quaida would grow to become. In the play Michelle Dowd as a library-less librarian scheming to get to America outlines one, while other armed and gruffly bearded state an even more contemptuous opinion, unfortunately in Pashtoon (or perhaps Arabic?).

So, you see, this is indeed a big, sprawling, brilliantly acted play full of surprises that, if there are any empty seats (though there shouldn't be!), I will try to see a second time. I liked it that much. I think you might too.


"Homebody/Kabul" (24 February - 19 March)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

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