Regional Reviews: Seattle
Homebody/Kabul at Intiman Theatre
For anyone who cares seriously about well written, well acted and directed, imaginatively produced theatre that deals with a serious theme in a way that is still entertaining and even humorous, then Intiman Theatre's production of Homebody/Kabul is not to be missed.
Kushner's eerily prescient play was initially completed in 2001 shortly before the world changed on 9/11/01, though first staged in NY afterwards. It was revised by the author for the just completed Steppenwolf Theatre run in Chicago, and further revised throughout Intiman's rehearsal period. In an opening night curtain speech, director (and Intiman artistic director) Bartlett Sher advised that 32 pages of further revisions had gone in the day before opening. To the credit of all concerned, these last minute changes weren't apparent at all. Though a bit unsatisfying in its wrap up, Kushner's play, and most certainly Sher's scintillating and bold staging of it, are a tonic for a theatre grown safe and complacent in the wake of our political and economic hard times.
The better part of the first act is a lengthy but fascinating extended monologue by the homebody, a middle-aged, highly intellectual British woman. Estranged from her husband and detached from her grown daughter, she finds the lure of Afghanistan - so mysterious, and entrancingly different from England - irresistible and sets off, alone to explore it. After her disappearance and presumed (but unconfirmed) death, her remote husband Milton and daughter Priscilla go on their own Afghanistan odyssey. Milton's journey is confined to the hotel room he barricades himself in, where he escapes from his pain and grief via heroin supplied him by an amiable fellow Brit, known as Quango Twistleton (after a P.G. Wodehouse character). Priscilla sets out boldly and recklessly to discover her mothers' whereabouts, meeting a succession of fascinating Afghanistan and Taliban characters, including a supposedly mad woman named Mahala, who is as anxious to escape Afghanistan as the homebody was to leave England.
Director Sher creates rare theatrical magic with his rapidly paced, choreographically styled direction, and his ensemble cast could not be bettered. Ellen McLaughlin (a Kushner veteran who created the Angel's role in Angels in American) is unerringly right as the homebody. She savors Kushner's dialogue as if tasting a fine wine, and never misses a beat or allows our minds to wander during the all-important opening of the show. Kristin Flanders, as the alienated daughter, was negotiating an opening night vocal ailment (with the aid of a body mike) and delivered a raw, funny & moving performance in the play's most challenging role. Jacqueline Antarmaian as Mahala is quite amazing, running quite a gamut of accents simultaneously, and leaving us never quite sure what her motives in leaving Afghanistan actually are. Laurence Ballard as the abandoned husband conveys the character's emotional distress and eagerness to escape from the reality of the situation with his usual finesse. As the dope-supplying Quango, Simeon Moore creates a character that is at once squirm inducing, likable and pitiable. Ismail Bashey's Esperanto-spouting poet Kwaja and Ed Chemaly's Sinatra loving Zai Garshay are performances that will long linger in my memory.
Sher works wondrously well with his design team to create a visual journey as striking as Kushner's verbal one. John Arnone's minimalist set design contrasts the bleakness of the Afghanistan settings against the cozy but obviously imprisoning abode of the homebody. Justin Townsend's majestic lighting design is brought to the forefront as the lighting instruments themselves become characters in the action, and an act three scene illuminated by candlelight is hauntingly beautiful. Finally, there is John Sills' sound design, an expert interweaving of Sinatra standards and Afghanstanian refrains.
Homebody/Kabul is not for the short attention span crowd, even though its 3½ hours plus 2 intermissions flew by for a companion and myself. But, if you are willing to let go and let it sweep over you, this may well be a theatrical experience you will be talking about for years to come. I know I will.
Homebody/Kabul plays at Intiman Theatre, 2nd and Mercer at Seattle Center, through October 11. For further information visit Intiman on-line at www.intiman.org.
- David-Edward Hughes