Richard and I saw *The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures* at the Public on 6/3/11. We saw it with our friends David and John - - we seemed to be the target audience, all four of us being intelligent homosexuals. I liked it better than the three of them, though we all agree on one key point: it's too damn long! I would call it a glorious mess (one of my fave genres), but I think the three of them would take out the "glorious" and leave it at "mess". I felt like it was thrilling to be challenged by the play, to be forced to really keep my brain on, and I was captivated by it throughout, but it was kinda hard work now and then. I did find myself wishing it would be over soon.
It might be easiest to pinpoint R's and my thoughts by comparing it to three other plays we've seen recently. These comparisons might not be fair, but the world isn't fair, is it? In its rabid intellectualism, we compare it to Stoppard's *Arcadia*. Both playwrights are chewing on issues that they care about - - for Stoppard, it's Byron, scholarship in general, landscape architecture, and in the broader scope, historical perspective. For Kushner, it's capitalism, socialism, issues of faith, and in the broader scope, family relationships. The difference is that Stoppard builds his play around the issues so the connections between the characters and the plot itself illuminate from the issues being presented. Kushner seems to have written out his own thoughts and put them in the mouths of his characters. Wouldn't we be better off reading this stuff in The Nation?
In its family angle, we compare it to Letts' *August: Osage County*. The difference here couldn't be clearer - - Letts wrote a play that's lean and mean, with no apparent political angle at all, and it's thrilling. Kushner so overloads the play with political content that you crave the scenes where the characters are connecting with each other, and therefore longing for the polemical sections to end soon.
And in its sheer Kushnerity, we have to compare it to *Angels in America*. No comparison. *Angels* is a masterpiece, *Guide* is a fascinating experiment. There's nothing lean or spare about *Angels*, but it's so solidly constructed and so compelling that you wouldn't cut out a word of it. *Guide* is much, much shorter, but we all thought it would be stronger if you shaved an hour off it, and we all had good ideas of where to do that.
First off, what was the purpose of the sister's ex husband? He seemed completely extraneous. That whole *Cherry Orchard* thing was dippy, and why does the sale of the house have to factor into the drama at all? The two central issues are the father's plan to commit suicide and how his socialist ideals have affected him and his kids. The house doesn't need to come into it at all. Plus some of the scenes of people talking on top of each other were just plain maddening. A little of that goes a long way. We also felt like the gay son's partner didn't really add that much to the play - - he could have stayed in Minneapolis and maybe been a stronger presence by his absence. Plus, what kind of yahoo would give up his tenure at Columbia to move with his partner to Minneapolis, just because his partner can't extract himself from his hooker? Grow up!
The loveliest scene, for me, was the scene at the start of the third act, with the gay son and the father in the father's bedroom, having their frank discussion about themselves and their shortcomings. This scene had a quietness and a warmth that was lacking in the rest of the play. A whole play of that would be tiresome (it would be *Next Fall*, actually), but there could have been some more moments peppered throughout the play. On the flip side, R and I were crazy for the scene at the start of the second act, with the sister's partner talking off the ear of the aunt. Hilarious! It was a gorgeous synthesis of brilliant writing and a stellar performance.
I also really loved the first scene between the gay son and the hustler. It was so satisfying on a theatrical level, how they kept switching between being honest with themselves and each other, and putting on a facade/playing a role. That's theatre at its finest, it was like Albee. He did a great job of showing how symbiotic their relationship was, and how toxic.
The performances were all strong as hell. The play, clearly, gives great opportunities to actors, and that's doing a lot. The production was lovely, I never got tired of looking at that room in the father's house.