Sunday, September 15, 2002

Homebody/Kabul (Dobama)

Dobama's 'HOMEBODY/KABUL' is a long sit

Tony Kushner is noted as being a political playwright. He has charted German social democratic impotence in A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY. In SLAVS, he probes the death of the Soviet Union. In his most acclaimed work, the two-part, nine-hour epic ANGELS IN AMERICA, he examines personal suffering and betrayal in the worlds of disease, homophobia, and reactionary politics. In all of his plays he uses lots and lots and lots of words.

At the beginning of PERESTROIKA (part two of ANGELS IN AMERICA) a character asks, "The great question before us is: will the past release us?" He continues to probe that question in his rambling new play HOMEBODY/KABUL, which is getting its midwestern debute at Dobama Theatre. Ironically, Kushner wrote the play before 9/11/2001. This makes the work, which is set in Afghanistan, rather remarkable and a little eerie. He talks about places and topics that most Americans weren’t even aware of before that fateful date.

Our journey starts with an hour-long monologue in which Homebody, a middle-aged British matron, offers glimpses of the pain of a loveless marriage as she conjures a stream-of-consciousness vision of an ancient land and culture, a place of "strangeness and beauty." A place from which history dawns and is the burial sight of Cain, the killing brother of Bibical history.

Homebody leaves home to visit Afghanistan and disappears. What happened to her is the mystery that her husband, an uncommunicative communications expert, and her daughter, a neurotic, alienated young woman, strive to discover during the next two acts. Was she killed by a mob offended by her apparent flouting of Muslim female propriety? Is she still alive? Has she taken the veil and married a Muslim doctor? As is his habit, Kushner layers this narrative with fascinating historical facts and observations. In this case, on western and Afghan culture.

Some scenes are powerful such as when a rejected Afghan wife's rage at the West's complicity in bringing the Taliban to power. Some are seemingly meaningless bits of information. In reality, the play could have ended with the conclusion of the first act and been satisfying.

In spite of some brilliant dialogue and philosophical importance, Kushner does not seem to head the adage, “The mind can absorb what the seat can endure.” The major topic at both intermissions on opening night was on the interminable length of the show.

Dobama’s production is well staged. Nan Wray is nothing short of brilliant as Homebody. Robert Hawkes, is properly emotionally challenged as the very linear husband. Scott Platte is effective in his role as an undefined diplomat. Bernadette Clemens is often too strident as the daughter. Jean Zarzour gives a special dimension to the Muslim doctor’s shunned wife.

Capsule judgement: Director Joel Hammer should have been aware that modern-day audiences, even the intellectual ones who generally attend Dobama productions, are not going to cotton to a play that clocks in at 3 hours, 45 minutes. If Kushner wouldn’t cut the script, Hammer should have. Sections could have been red penciled without destroying the message, probably enhancing the meaning.