Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures - Studio Theatre July 11 - October 10

Gray Powell as Vito, Kelli Fox as Empty, Steven Sutcliffe as Pill, Jim Mezon as Gus Marcantonio and Fiona Reid as Clio. Photo by David Cooper

I want to liquidate. And then vacate.

After the second intermission of the three-hour-and-fifty-minute Tony Kushner play, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures (iHO, the Shaw abbreviation), the lady beside me, looking exhausted, grins: "Round three!" She's right; instead of Shaw's Studio Theatre, I feel like I'm at the Roman Coliseum watching a large group of well-armed, co-ed gladiators battle across the field.

The combatants in this case are members of the Marcantonio clan, the head of the family, Gus (Jim Mezon), an aging King Lear about to divide his kingdom, the proceeds from the sale of his brownstone Brooklyn home, valued at up to $500,000 for each of his children, Phil, the older son (Steven Sutcliffe), M.T. (Maria Teresa) or Empty, his daughter (Kelli Fox), and Vito, his youngest son (Gray Powell)

Mezon (Augusto Giuseppe Garibaldi) is faultless as the 72-year-old patriarch, a life-long member of the Communist party that ultimately succumbed to the cancer of capitalism and its inherent greed, a fact along with his supposed Alzheimer's, has destroyed his desire to live any longer in its faux prison. We discover that the crux of his profound ennui centres really on what he calls his "greatest yet worst achievement," the successful longshoreman's collective agreement that included only those with seniority, thus casting aside all newbie's and thereby like a Dr. Frankenstein, creating his own detested bourgeoisie amidst his beloved proletariat. We also learn that he has unsuccessfully tried suicide once, the old Roman way, slitting his wrists and sitting in warm bathwater, but that exercise proved futile, and led to Vito having to clean up the bloody mess and repair and rejuvenate the upstairs bathroom.

Deep Throat (FBI special agent William Mark Felt, Sr.) suggests that money is the root cause of all political deeds and misdeeds in the case of the Nixon administration. Accordingly, Kushner illustrates money's divisive, destructive effects, and his stage, thanks to director, Eda Holmes erupts into an endless cacophony of political-theological struggle and rhetoric that creates an incomprehensible Tower of Babel effect such that both audience and cast no longer understand one other.

Selected scenes

Unfortunately for Gus, each of his offspring is conflicted with their own issues. Steven Sutcliffe's Pill (Pier Luigi) is superb as a self-loathing high school English teacher who amplifies the monetary theme because he enjoys and prefers paying for sex, being a consumer rather than being consumed, and handing out $30,000 of his sister's cash to his lover-hustler Eli (Ben Sanders) a Yale-educated fixation who disrupts Pills' "marriage" to African-American academic theologian Paul (Andre Sills) who is not amused. Pill laments his forsaken PhD, and foolishly thinks he can have it both ways. Sutcliffe and Sanders open the play talking to each other on the phone and as Sutcliffe babbles away in socialistic phrases, Sanders replies, "Oh yeah, baby. Talk commie to me." Sanders is terrific as the hustler as he was in The Divine, a young Shaw star in the making.

Labour lawyer M.T. (Kelli Fox) has a pregnant female partner, Maeve (Diana Donnelly) fertilized by brother Vito yet enjoys robust sex with her ex-husband, Adam, (Thom Marriott) the agent who would sell the house, much to the consternation of the children. Marriott finally gets a role with depth and is ideal as the guy who admits that he "bought the Cherry Orchard," echoing Chekhov's plot.

Vito (Gray Powell), is a handyman and building contractor who was spared his father's socialistic tutelage, and he manages to keep the house physically intact until in anger, he rams a Garibaldi statue through a wall. He is married to Korean-American, Sooze Moon (Jasmine Chen), and is ironically depicted as the most conservative Marcantonio because he identifies himself as a Democrat.

Clio, Gus's sister (Fiona Reid), is the centre of the storm, her sagacity labeling her as "Yoda," and Reid is wonderful as the taciturn ex-nun, ex-Maoist who witnessed death in Peru courtesy of terrorists, The Shining Path. The play offers many dark moments of humour, and her departure, carrying a large religious painting, indicates in amusing fashion that even God can't stand the bickering in this house.

Mezon is formidable as the tough, self-taught (autodidact) longshoreman and union organizer who still spends much of his time writing translations. Thanks to son Vito creating a hole in the wall with the Garibaldi statue (fittingly one of the "fathers of Italy"), we discover a briefcase with evidence of how hard-core the Marcantonio clan actually is, Gus's father one of many who financed an assassination in Italy of a dictator who fired a canon at a group of protestors.

Mezon reflects the immense passion and pain involved with his decision and how it will affect the family, but we understand that his life no longer has purpose. In the final scenes, Michelle (Julie Martell) arrives with a paper bag full of pills, 2 rubber bands and a clear plastic bag to be placed over the head. What follows is a suicide-for-dummies exchange while Mezon takes notes. At the end, the hustler (Sanders) appears and Mezon ponders the power of money, which, as we noted above, is the alpha and omega of action, political or otherwise.

Family and Politics in Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide...

Does Theater Still Matter?

Kushner's lengthy title pays homage to both Bernard Shaw's 1928 pamphlet, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, and Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, her 1875 basic Christian Science text. Howard Zinn's authoritative A People's History of the United States, aptly describes the positive roles played early on in the 20th century in the United States by socialists and communists alike and how they were all beaten back and gradually destroyed by avaricious political leaders. Kushner provides us with ample dialogue centering on Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto and many historical footnotes that frame the left-wing thinking of the family.

Intermixed with Babel, there are great lines penned by Kushner. Paul vents his anger with, "Look at you, clinging to that phone like it was your hope for eternal salvation. It's just a carcinogenic little microwave bundled with silicon and arsenic and tantalite from the Congo, the mining rights for which millions upon millions of innocents have been slaughtered, that's the devil in your hand, you heartless evil wicked faggot." Gus combines stark, ironic market talk and street talk with, "I want to liquidate. And then vacate," which might have been a better title and synopsis of the play.

iHO, The Devine and Peter and the Starcatcher are my top three picks at Shaw this season. You will not be disappointed with any of these finally acted and directed pieces. After that, it's Sweet Charity, The Twelve-Pound Look and Pygmalion.

There are terrific notes in the program, reproduced below -

Director's Notes by Eda Holmes
"People try to be so fussy and particular when they look at politics, but what I think an understanding of the second half of the twentieth century calls for is not caution and circumspection but moral exuberance." Tony Kushner, A Bright Room Called Day

This quote comes from one of the early plays of Tony Kushner. Even before he wrote Angels in America, Kushner was delving deep into the historical moments that inform the world we live in now. He himself is one of the most morally exuberant voices writing today. The characters in his plays are often not up to the moral challenges he poses for them and yet he forces them to endure those challenges as they negotiate the most difficult questions of our times. His characters are superhumanly articulate yet painfully human. They are often filled to bursting with love and still unable to fully express it. That is particularly true of The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide ... The Marcantonios have a passionate sense of family that expresses itself as brutal argument and rare apology. The patriarch Gus grew up believing in the power of the working class to be an agent of revolution. Yet in Brooklyn in 2007, the moral exuberance he brought to his life as a union organizer and proud member of the American Communist Party has been battered. He has become excruciatingly aware that the world is manifesting "every horror that was anticipated when money becomes truth" and he feels helpless in the face of it. He knows that the world he will leave to his children is not the one he had imagined he was making. Over the course of the play, Gus will try instead to give his children the moral exuberance that it will take to survive in the uncertain future that he sees ahead. What more can a parent do?

Music Director's Notes by Paul Sportelli
When Eda Holmes and I started discussing the music I would write for this play, we both immediately spoke of George Gershwin: there's something quintessentially New York about the sound of Gershwin and it just felt right as a point of reference. There are also two Giuseppe Verdi arias quoted in the script and I knew I wanted to use them as springboards too. Gershwin and Verdi felt like an appropriate reaching back into the past, but I also wanted the music to sound contemporary. So I asked Shaw ensemble member Kelly Wong to create electronic drums and soundscapes for the project. I started at the piano by playing through Gershwin's Concerto in F, Preludes, An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue, as well as the Verdi arias, choosing particular passages that struck me as right for the world of the play; sometimes it was just a chord or two or a melodic fragment. I improvised on those passages at the piano while recording my improvisations, chose my favourite ones and composed based on them. Saxophones also seemed right for this play - urban and sexy - so I arranged my work for piano, alto saxophone and baritone saxophone. I provided Kelly with piano recordings of my compositions and he began his work of composing electronic drums and soundscapes. I then recorded my piano tracks to Kelly's creations. It was a very exciting collaboration with Kelly and equally exciting to record Shaw orchestra members Tom Skublics (alto saxophone) and Sasha Boychouk (baritone saxophone) as the final element of the compositional fabric.

Shaw Festival - 2015

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Lincoln Writer Tony Kushner's Unexpected Advice:

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures

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