Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Dramatic Week

This evening some friends and I will be attending Tony Kushner’s new play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures.

Here’s how the Guthrie Theater (which commissioned and is staging the play) describes Kushner’s latest work:

The title of Tony Kushner’s new play is inspired by two 19th-century thinkers and their works - George Bernard Shaw’s “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism” and Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” The play looks at the life of a 20th-century thinker, retired longshoreman Gus Marcantonio (filmmaker, actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer), who’s feeling confused and defeated by the 21st century. In summer 2007, he invites his sister and his three children (who in turn bring along spouses, ex-spouses, lovers and more) to a most unusual family reunion in their Brooklyn brownstone.

With humor and passion, the play examines the importance of connectedness and belonging - to a family, a community, a group, an ideology, a marriage - and what happens when those connections are lost.

It should be an interesting and entertaining night.

Actually, it’s shaping up to being a rather “dramatic” week, as tomorrow night my friend Brian and I will be attending another play, Ten Thousand Things Theater’s production of Raskol, which is a reworking of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

You may recall that in a previous post I expressed interest in delving into the works of Dostoyevsky. Well, I decided to start with Crime and Punishment, and have been reading it now for about two weeks. It’s a great novel - evocative and compelling. And even though tomorrow night’s play will give away the ending of it for me, I’m nevertheless looking forward to seeing how writer Kira Obolonsky adapts the novel to the stage.

In the latest issue of City Pages, Quinton Skinner has a well-written review of Raskol, a play which he notes, “delivers humor, wrenching depth, and an acknowledgment that the messy events of our lives are matched only by the riot in our heads.”

Following are excerpts from Skinner’s review.


[Obolonsky’s] script wisely dispenses with many of the mental machinations that occur before [Raskolnikov, played by Kris Nelson] murders his pawnbroker and her sister; the action opens with Raskol in the immediate aftermath of his dirty deed, with his hands stained red and the enormity of his crime dawning across his features.

Raskol clearly can’t dispense with its title character’s inner battles, but we’re also given a welcome reminder that the source novel was staunchly urban, and materialistic, with constant references to St. Petersburg and Raskol’s alarming financial situation (he’s as effective a money manager as a murderer). Director Michelle Hensley’s production keeps matters focused squarely on the here and now, leaving Nelson to (quite effectively) project the snake eating its own tail in Raskol’s head.

It’s not that Dostoevsky couldn’t be a bore; the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold Sonya (Tracey Maloney) might as well be a figment of Raskol’s steamy imagination (if we didn’t know better), and his dealings with his widowed mother (Karen Wiese-Thompson) and sister Dunya (Lisa Clair) are hard to rescue from melodrama. Dunyas suitor Leonard Wolf, though, maintains our interest throughout primarily due to Craig Johnson’s oily, shifty portrayal.

Very quickly, the play begins to feel like more than the sum of its parts. With seven actors playing more than 20 roles, the show at times feels like a quick-change version of the blur of city life. More welcome still is a recurrent vein of unhinged humor, with Luverne Seifert crashing about as Raskol’s drunken lout of a friend, and Clair biting into such fragmentary roles as a police clerk, a ghost, and a budding socialist.

. . . Probably the most notable praise for Raskol is that it tackles the same stuff as Dostoyevksy: the gulf between life as we apprehend it and the way things actually play out. This production feels as alive, and relevant, as if it had been created from scratch (despite its obvious loyalty to, and affection for, its source). At the end, Nelson and Maloney circle one another, with Raskol staring down Siberia and Sonya promising never to leave him. They gaze into the abyss of the future, the same life sentence, really, that we all face. Raskol, for his part, decides that he can do his time. It’s as true and affirmative a declaration as any of us can muster, whatever felonies and misdemeanors might be listed on our own personal rap sheets.

To read Quinton Skinner’s review of Raskol in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Playwright Tony Kushner on Being a Socialist
A Summer of Dostoyevsky?

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