Tony Kushner Comes To Town, We Benefit, Finish Tech and then Previews Begin!

It’s been a whirlwind week. Kushner came, he shared, he conquered. Read all about his benefit appearance and our MCCA celebration of his prodigiousness in film, prose, music and theater here in this amazing recounting of the rich full evening we presented on Monday, November 10.

Tony Kushner in Conversation with Arena Stage's Molly Smith at the DCJCC

Tony Kushner in Conversation with Arena Stage’s Molly Smith at the DCJCC

By Thursday night, we were previewing The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures. Our running time is 20 minutes shorter than at Berkeley Rep. It’s an achievement, to have come up with such a different version in look and length from the West Coast premiere. And still we are in rehearsal; still we are refining our work; but the satisfaction in getting something manageable up there; something controllable and refine-able… is profound. Our great work continues.

Tom Wiggin and Susan Rome (C. Stanley Protography)

Tom Wiggin and Susan Rome (C. Stanley Protography)

Tom Wiggin and Tim Getman  (C. Stanley Protography)

Tom Wiggin and Tim Getman (C. Stanley Protography)

Lou Liberatore and Josh Adams (C. Stanley Protography)

Lou Liberatore and Josh Adams (C. Stanley Protography)

42 thoughts on “Tony Kushner Comes To Town, We Benefit, Finish Tech and then Previews Begin!

  1. A production element I found particularly effective was the costuming of Vito reflecting Gus’ costume. A prevalent theme I noticed is how throughout the entire play Gus accepts Empty and Pill as taking after himself and raised them to be products of his influence but he rejects any connection between himself and Vito. Gus constantly tells Vito that he is like his mom and he raised him that way on purpose. In virtually all fights between the two, Gus always tells Vito that he doesn’t understand because he’s “not like” Gus or his siblings. However, Gus does not see or won’t acknowledge how similar Vito really is to him and how much Vito wants a connection with his father.

    Here is where I found the costuming a particularly effective element in conveying this relationship. Gus and Vito have very similar costumes. They both have unbuttoned, short sleeve, collared shirts of a similar color pallet with a white undershirt and similar trousers. Vito’s costume, paired with how the actor replicated Gus’ hunched posture, expressive arms, and manner of speech shows the obvious link between Vito and Gus that is not acknowledged by the characters in the play. I didn’t notice this right away, not until maybe the second act in the middle of a fight between Gus and Vito when I suddenly noticed that what they were wearing was so similar.

    I thought this also showed how much Vito has internalized his father’s presence and influence over his life and that Gus either doesn’t see this physical evidence that is right in front of him, or he is refusing to acknowledge it because of the distance he has worked to put between himself and his son since Vito’s birth. This was a very conscious and smart design decision. I give props to the costume designer, Ivania Stack, for helping portray this element of the relationship between Gus and Vito so effectively.

    • Hi Molly,
      This was a great observation you made between the costumes of both Vito and Gus! I admittedly did not catch it while viewing the show, but it fits so well within the context of their relationship, and I agree that it was a smart design decision on the behalf of Ivania Stack. I think Gus and Vito’s relationship is one of the most interesting dynamics in the play. In some ways, I sensed Gus almost puts the blame of his wife’s death on Vito, as she died during childbirth. This, no doubt, puts an enormous strain on the relationship. Vito’s oftentimes loud and hot-headed personality also provides friction between him and his father, as Vito lacks any sort of understanding (or, even an attempt to understand) Gus’s decision to take his own life. But, as you noted, the parallel in the characters’ costumes provides this subtle link between the both of them. Good eye!

    • As always, such great observations that you make, Molly! I did not quite realize how much Gus & Vito’s style and demeanor were similar.Thanks for bringing that to my attention. On the topic of style or dress choice: I found that Pill and Eli’s dress code also spoke volumes to their relationship with each other. Right at the beginning, when i tried to pick apart who they were, i kept coming back to their appearance. When you look at Pill, you see the jean- wearing, plaid shirt, preppy man with some years under his belt. Eli, on the other hand, had his sneakers, tight jeans, dark colors, tattoos, and very evident youth. Every time they appeared together, you could see how different they were from each other, but it drew you to what made their relationship most interesting: the fact that their different lifestyles did not stop their it from developing as it did.

  2. Ari posed a very interesting question Thursday night during the talkback when he asked how our experiences with 90ish-minute productions (the majority of the shows what we have seen so far) differ from our experience with Kushner’s three-and-a-half hour production of “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures,” as put on by Theater J. Admittedly, walking into the theater, while I was excited to see my first Kushner production, I was not particularly enthused about the length, especially since I had worked all day and still had unfinished homework to complete after the show. Regardless of this though, as I invested more and more of my attention in the play and the struggles of the characters, I felt like time slipped away quickly. I was actually surprised that the end of the play seemingly came so fast!

    In response to Ari’s question, I believe a three-and-a-half hour play has some advantages over a 90-minute production. The added time allows the playwright, director, and actors to flesh out the characters’ conflicts and backgrounds a bit more deeply. For instance, I felt like every character had a subplot and/or struggle with almost every other character on stage. We were able to explore these key dynamics of every relationship more because the extra time allowed for it. It also lets the playwright develop longer and more substantive dialogue (and, sometimes monologue) between characters.

    However, the longer play format is at a somewhat obvious disadvantage when compared to the 90-minute production and that is audience fatigue or waning of attention. At times, I felt myself zoning out and not attending closely to what was happening on stage, simply because I needed a break. “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures” is an overwhelming play with all of the struggles (both internal and external) it portrays, especially when multiple characters argued over one another at multiple points. I just needed a few minutes to process what I was thinking, and even though the play had two ten-minute intermissions, sometimes those breaks did not come soon enough.

    All in all, terrific preview of the show on Thursday! In fact, Thursday night’s showing did not even feel like a preview; the actors and stage crew certainly are great at what they do! Looking forward to seeing how the show continues to develop in its season at Theater J.

    • Timothy,
      I totally agree that this play did not feel like 3 and a half hours! I was so engaged in the plot that I really didn’t notice how much time had passed. Like you, I wasn’t sure what to expect when walking into the theater after a long day, but I was amazed by how quickly the play went by. There was so much action and power in each scene. It felt like something important was always happening, and I was just waiting to see what happened next. For a while, I was just dying to know what was in that suitcase!

  3. “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures” is, first and foremost, a mega-play in comparison to the rest of the works we have seen thus far this semester. I-HO is primarily what I will call a “script play,” meaning its crown jewel is its banter and the internal discussion happening within the play, rather than its stage presence. Kushner deeply explores the ideology behind revolution alongside criticizing economic systems and discussing the significance of death. Gus, the father figure who wants to commit assisted suicide, cannot think past his own analysis of the “system” in which he lives and hates, one dedicated to the “prison rebuilding itself” so that “nothing ever changes,” barring true revolution. His Marxist rants seem to reflect Marxist ideology rooted in pre-18th Brumaire beliefs, where Marx – and also Gus – believe that mass collective sentiment and action will inevitably lead to revolution if the working class consciously recognizes its capacity to affect change. I am curious, then, to hear how The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte comes into play, as it grapples with a failed revolution that Gus simultaneously seems to feel in every aspect of his life. Gus very much reminded me of Jacob from “Awake and Sing!” in that they are both the oldest generation in the household, both hold fervent Communist beliefs, both attempt to indoctrinate the younger generation (Gus with Empty and Jacob with Ralph), and both yearn for or do commit suicide for what they see as the betterment of their families.

    The most striking part of the play, the final and climatic scene of the end of the Act 2, addresses every major consideration of Kushner’s script through the chaos of conversation and action. These concepts range from the discussion that “death’s not a change,” speaking to the nature of death as a definitive nothingness past life; a self-referential consideration of I-HO itself when one character exclaims that it is “time to decide if this play is a tragedy or something else”; the revelation of various secrets, including the buyer of the brownstone and the truth behind Maeve’s pregnancy; and the literal rhythmic intervention of Gus’ slow yet timed clapping, providing a pace for the scene and clearly indicating Gus’ role as the conductor of the play. Although a three and a half hour long play is daunting, I-HO’s requires the time to develop and unravel its various complexities. Thanks to the I-HO cast and crew for such a demanding production!

    • Layne,
      In your post, I liked how you included quotes from the end of Act 2. I also thought this was the most striking part of the play because the topic of death was explored in more detail and the truth was finally exposed, and the characters’ reactions, especially Empty punching Adam, were shocking and hilarious. However, I am still confused by what you mean by “script play,” when describing I-HO. Do you believe that people generally get the same affect whether they read the play or watch it live because it has little stage presence? If so, did you feel that the lights/sounds playing when Vito knocked out the wall distracted from the conversations happening at the same time?

  4. First of all, I was so surprised by how quickly this play flew by. I was so engaged the whole time, I was taken by surprise at both intermissions because I didn’t realize how much time had pass. There was so much going on in this play that the three and half hours were necessary to help tell the story, but it felt much shorter and was not at all drawn out.

    A character that frustrated me during this play was Gus. I just felt like he was giving up and putting his family through a lot of pain and suffering. He tried to convince them his suicide would be the right decision, but I never thought he gave them a compelling enough reason. I couldn’t believe when he made Empty watch while he got the “do it yourself” kit from Michelle. I thought it was really selfish of him to expect that his daughter would be okay with this and live with the responsibility and guilt of helping her father die.

    I thought it was really interesting and thoughtful how all of the characters were connected. In the first few scenes, I was still trying to figure out how everyone was related. The whole Empty-Maeve-Vito baby situation was so crazy and took me a while to wrap my head around. But it made more sense when they explained they didn’t have the money for the fertility treatment, because Pill had spent it on Eli. It also made sense that Maeve insisted that Vito be the father, because she was scared of Empty walking out on her and the baby. On top of all of this drama, you also had Empty’s ex- husband, Adam, living in the basement of the brownstone just adding more stress to the situation. Another strange relationship was the love triangle between Pill, Eli, and Paul. It was very emotional to watch Pill attempt to struggle through his feelings for Eli and his lingering love and dependence on Paul.

    • Carolyn I definitely agree with your point that the play was tremendously engaging because I also became surprised as the lights faded and the audience clapped – signaling intermission. I was surprised because the play was magically captivating and I was not concerned with time, what I had to do afterwards, or any other thing in my life. I was entranced by the production. I also think that Gus was extremely selfish for bringing his daughter into his suicide plan. This is unacceptable, but also screams – in my opinion – that he did not want to do it and wanted someone to stop him. We all need a helping hand. Maybe this was his way of asking for it?

    • I also really liked how the relationships of the characters in the play developed meaning as the story progressed. I found it interesting how each relationship seemed to explore a different theme of the play. For example, the Empty-Gus relationship developed Kushner’s ideas on death and the importance of family and the Pill-Eli-Paul relationship advanced his ideas on love and romantic relationships. While it is fascinating to see the developments of different characters in plays, it was far more complex to see how the relationships between characters evolved as they underwent their own struggles and arguments. Empty and Gus, for example, struggle with the issue of suicide and their failing relationship. The use of relationships to explore different ideas and themes made the story very multifaceted and complicated.

  5. Only several minutes into this production, I realized what Ari was talking about during our last in-class discussion when he said that the dialogue in “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures” (or I-Ho) is “overlapping,” with multiple people talking at the same time. I found it rather humorous to see multiple characters onstage talking at once, each trying to pull the audience’s attention to themselves. Usually when this happened, especially during the scene in Act 2 when almost everyone is onstage, I often found it difficult to decide which characters to pay attention to and which ones to put on the backburner.

    During the big Act 2 scene, the loudest conversation that could be heard over everyone else was the argument between Gus and Vito, however I noticed myself focusing mostly on the character of Adam. Adam strolls into the scene casually and awkwardly plops himself on the steps between the tense couple Pill and Paul, making a few funny remarks here and there between the family’s shouting. Then he enters the house, amidst the angry family, and struggles to make his own feelings heard over those of the others. After he is finally able to reveal that Maeve and Vito slept together, and that he is still in love with Empty, the scene ends with Adam getting socked in the face by his lesbian ex-wife.

    Another aspect of this play that particularly stuck out to me was the stage. I was wondering how one stage would be able to incorporate all of the different settings that there are in this play, and I think the directors did a successful job in using the downstage area (along with focus lighting and furniture movement) to indicate different locations. Another thing that struck me about the set was the giant, plastered-together wall. Having read the play before attending the production, I knew that this design was intended so that Vito and Gus could make holes in it. But seeing the play live, I realized that the destruction of the wall seemed to be symbolic of the destruction of the family. The scene in Act 2 (mentioned above) when they all start fighting occurs after Vito breaks the wall even more than he did in the first Act. In the third Act, however, Vito brings a piece of sheetrock to fix the hole, and even his wife mentions that this is a symbol of Vito’s forgiveness.

    • I also noticed what Ari meant by overlapping. I thought when he meant by overlapping, the audience could still hear the dialogue – so one of those scenes where the lines are strategically overlapped so that there’s a cohesion of two separate dialogues. And it wasn’t! It was something I have not seen before. All the characters were talking at the same time and I couldn’t really follow one dialogue. But in a way that cacophony and chaos created harmony in itself, and made sense. It was all so very exciting and different. It was very fresh for me personally.

    • I too enjoyed the overlapping aspect of this play. It was an element we really haven’t seen in other productions this semester. It makes it so that if you were to re-watch the play, you could revisit those scenes from new characters perspectives. When I saw these scenes, I jumped from conversation to conversation however, and realized that what was being said was not really essential to the play. It seems like these scenes are more the effect of listening to a cacophony of voices and a way to characterize the family and characters themselves as outspoken individuals.

  6. Going into Kushner’s play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures, I was not excited to sit through a “mega play” after a day at work. However, I was surprised by the plot twists, like Adam being the buyer, and absolutely loved the ending. I also really liked how in many parts of the play, multiple people would be talking at once. Although it was hard to follow and make out what everyone was saying, it makes the play seem more realistic because with that many people in one room, there are usually more than one conversations going on at once.
    With regards to the ending, it took me a while to find the meaning and tie it to the rest of the play, even after the post show talk back and Ari asking how we interpreted the ending. I do not believe that Gus ends up killing himself because of the conversation he had with Eli. As a young person in society, it was encouraging to see someone older find a connection with Eli, who was portrayed to be the youngest character in the play. Sometimes I feel like the older generations tend to overlook our generation and think that many of the decisions we make are stupid, or that we are wasting our lives away. Even though that might have been how Gus originally thought of Eli, especially because of his job as a hustler, he was able to overlook that and have a meaningful conversation.. All and all, Eli was able to save Gus’ life by taking the time to talk with him, which is something many people of our generation should realize; the street goes both ways and if we want to be respected by older generations, we should take the time to embrace them because you never know what one conversation has the power to do.

    • Meaghan, I like what you said about the interaction between Eli and Gus. I think you are right that older generations often do not respect or connect with our generation, but the final scene illustrates that maybe it just takes time and some actual conversations to overcome this. However, I will say that I thought Eli’s character wasn’t necessarily indicative of the average person our age, but I guess I understand what Kushner was going for. The tensions he presented in the play between young and old, gay and straight, male and female, different races, and between different religious philosophies was interesting to watch. I felt that Kushner was trying to display as many combinations of these aspects as he could, and then showed us how they would interact. I was also unsure of the end of the play after I first viewed it, but now I think that Kushner was just trying to show two people, both different in many ways, who were going through similar issues. I think that was the point. All different types of people go through similar things, and it can be difficult for us to see or understand this.

    • Hi Meaghan,

      Thanks for your comments! I also really enjoyed the scenes in which there were multiple characters on stage talking at the same time. One of the scenes like this that I particularly liked was the last scene of Act 2 (in which Empty punches Adam in the eye). For me, the scene was especially chaotic – not only did you have multiple actors on the stage, but you had multiple conversations occurring (some of which were being yelled, others being held more privately). Not only was this entertaining and exciting to watch, but, as you said, it helped me believe the actors’ performances and the realness of the script that much more. Real life isn’t neatly dialogued or toned down, and Kushner knows how to express this wonderfully in his works.

  7. This play was – whew! So, much brilliance packed into a play. Marital issues, LGBT lifestyles, familial struggles, suicide, prostitution, cheating, love triangles, technological advances which provide opportunities for child-bearing, and the slight political shade throwing every now and again. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I could go on and on about so much, but I think I want to dissect some of my favorite moments.

    The First: Prostitution. Money was the thing that made it prostitution, but in the play Pill asks why is money seen as a bad thing? It is just another form of foreplay for people. I found this interesting because in a way it makes me think of prostitution in a completely different light without the stigma that society has placed upon it as a deviant lifestyle. I did not think that a play could change something I have thought for years in a few short hours.

    The relationships in the play need to be mentioned. The love triangle of Pill, Eli, and Paul was ridiculous because of the circumstances – marriage and prostitution – but the craziest was Empty, Vito, Sooze, Adam, and Maeve! Everyone either cheated or had been cheated on. Empty cheated on Maeve with Adam, Maeve cheated on Empty with V, V cheated on Sooze with Maeve, and in the end the oly people who had not been cheated on or cheated was Adam – who also happened to be the buyer! Woah, so much compacted into one play. DRAMA!

    The thought that suicide is a tantrum has been something that I thought and at different points in my life have been told. I think that this is really inaccurate and insensitive to the people going through depression. As an RA I have learned a lot about suicide and the hardest thing to learn is that IF they want to do it they will find a way to do it. It comes down to exactly what the play portrayed – for those contemplating suicide life as torture and those close to the contemplator death is the torture. Is it selfish to force someone to live even though it is torture? Is it selfish to end a life because that will be the torture for others? I don’t have the answer to this.

    Lastly, I loved the idea that progressivism is just a prison that rebuilds itself thicker and thicker as we get a victory on past indiscretions. I don’t have much room, but I find this to be extremely relevant and a part of today’s society with regards to sexism, racism, and all the other isms. Once there is a victory for the underdogs – let call the person/people on top or the one-percent “the man” for the sake of this argument – well “the man” finds a way to institutionalize and disguise the indiscretions and continue to look out for those at the top.

    • Hi James,
      I really liked the insight you had about prostitution being a form of foreplay. I don’t really remember that line from the play, but it’s an interesting perspective because prostitution usually has a negative stigma surrounding it. I also thought the questions you posed about suicide were interesting. I agree that if someone no longer has the desire to live, then they will find a way to die, and I think the character of Gus is a good example of this. I don’t think there really is an answer to your questions – if Gus kills himself then his family will be heartbroken, but if Gus continues to live he will just continue to be miserable. I think the family’s realization of the latter part is the reason why they decided not to call the police in the end.

      • James,

        I really appreciate what you said about how this play made you look at prostitution in a different way. Though I’m coming from a different perspective, having never understood what is wrong with prostitution, this play made me look at it in a different light too. Pill and Eli’s relationship here is one much more of mutual love and care, which is not the relationship one would normally expect with a prostitute. The money, though crucial to their relationship, feels very secondary. Perhaps the intention for this part of the play was to help people better understand prostitution and the people who use it– this example is extremely sympathetic.

  8. I have mixed feelings about Tony Kushner’s play. On the one hand, I thought the actor’s did a fantastic job performing a complicated and lengthy work, but on the other, there were elements of the play itself and the set that I didn’t like.

    First, let’s start with the positive aspects. The writing is deep and complex, allowing for a more in-depth and realistic view into the characters’ lives. I felt the writing and the sheer length of the played allowed for this, allowing me to have a more personal and emotional connection. This leads me to my next point. The large group scenes that involved a lot of dialogue, although a bit confusing at times, really made me feel the anguish, confusion, and stress that the characters must have felt. Not only did the words have meaning, but the way in which characters expressed them in situations. It seemed as though certain characters were just talking to themselves at time, because others were already engaged in other conversations and were therefore ignoring them. The actors themselves navigated this fairly well, considering how difficult it must be to coordinate that many characters speaking at the same time. The play also struck a good balance between humor, despair, and intellect. I was able to not only better understand what people went through emotionally in that situation, but also to learn what actually happened in terms of the labor movement. The play was very smart, and I enjoyed the combination of all of these aspects.

    Now I will move on to what I didn’t like about the play. The set was confusing at times, and it even seemed to be difficult for the actors to maneuver. The best example of this were the two sets of stairs. They were right next to each other, but one was meant to lead to the basement, and other led to the outside. There were at least a few times that the actors started towards the wrong staircase, and then switched to the other one. This wasn’t a major distraction, but it disrupted the flow at times. Also, the transition between different floors was not as clear as it could have been. I would have appreciated a bit more detail when scenes switched to different floors of the house. Lastly, I didn’t necessarily like the brownstone hanging overhead. I understand the purpose of the choice, but I thought it was lost on most audience members, mostly because many couldn’t see it well.

    Overall, I enjoyed the performance. There is definitely some more work that needs to be done in practice, but I thought the characters really did a nice job with a difficult piece of work.

    • Stephen, I felt that same sense of anxiety, stress, and frustration during the large group scenes in which everyone was talking over each other. Partly because the arguing and the aggression that was palpable during those scenes, but also because I was worried I would miss important dialogue. I was trying to focus on all the conversations at once so I didn’t miss anything, but that just lowered my comprehension of anything- except for the occasional ridiculous outbursts from Adam- which only added to the frustration. Overall, great show and interesting stage design. I liked the brownstone hanging over the stage though. Its message was a little on the nose, but I found myself glancing up at the house occasionally, waiting for it to fall on top of everything.

    • I agree that the set design was a little confusing. I hadn’t even realized that the two sets of stairs were supposed to lead to different places until I read your comment! That being said, I really appreciate the thought behind the set and character placement. To me, the brownstone hanging above everyone’s heads, along with the constant presence of Gus’ book collection, signified to me the idea that they (everyone but Gus, basically) could never quite escape their troubles. The looming threat of Gus’ suicide and the unknown future of the family’s belongings was always, if I may, hanging over their heads.

      I even noticed this in a couple of scenes, especially between Pill and Eli / Pill and Paul, where Gus was actually sitting in the background, not a part of that scene or the one that came after, but always there lurking in the background. I think this speaks to the idea that Gus really is the thread that connects everyone together, even taking into consideration the fact that is basically related to everyone on stage.

  9. Tony Kushner’s, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures”, is an enormous, immersive work, and it provided an especially unique experience at Theater J this past Thursday.

    After the show, I could not help but continue thinking about some of the characters, particularly Gus. Throughout the show, I did not like Gus’s character very much. Like some of the other audience members, I thought that he seemed selfish and, frankly, annoying, given how he refused to take seriously his children’s pleas for him not to kill himself. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the kind of pain and hardship that Gus lived through so as to best understand his emotional and mental state during the show. At the beginning of the show, we learn that Gus’s wife died while giving birth to V (the reason why Gus picked V’s birthday as the day he would cut his wrists). And of course, Gus explains during the play how he has suffered since the Communist Party USA gave up the idea of “the union”. Ever since the abandonment of this vital ideal, Gus has felt the pain of living in a world that he views as becoming increasingly corrupt and unchangeable. But, while I can understand where his pain comes from, I cannot necessarily excuse him from his actions during the course of play. Gus refuses to take his children’s fears and pleas seriously, and in doing so shows a blatant disregard and disrespect for his children. For example, in the third act of the play there is a scene in which Gus tells Vito that he will not kill himself. It reads:

    Gus: “I am not going to kill myself. I’m telling you the truth, heart’s truth.”
    Vito: “As true as that you love me? Say that.”
    Gus: “As true as that I love you, V. I’m asking your sister to stay tonight. You come over tomorrow after work and we’ll put up the wall. OK?”

    To me, this dialogue was particularly striking, especially upon seeing the first scene of Act 4 (with Gus, Empty and Shelle). In that dialogue, Gus abused the deep promise made to his son and raised several questions: Why would he promise on the love he has for V if he did not mean to keep the promise? Is this revealing of how much he actually cares for V? Was Gus genuine when making the promise and had a change of heart later (and does this really make a difference)? Does Gus love V, but made the promise because he knew it was the only way to stop V from calling the cops? And again, does this really matter? Isn’t the breaking of such a promise extremely disrespectful towards V and revealing of Gus’ character anyway?

    I believe it’s notable just how many questions this play has brought up, at least for me. Kushner seems to have succeeded again in creating an experience that will leave audiences thinking and feeling long after leaving the theatre.

  10. The production of “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures” was fun. I enjoyed the actors’ portrayal of the characters and the staging of the show. For instance, the brownstone that was floating above the entire play was a fun symbolic element that represented the persistence of the brownstone as a reminder to Gus of his family’s experience for generations. However, the play was not my favorite. I cannot say I thoroughly enjoyed the play, though the work put into the production most definitely showed. The play had well developed characters but was dizzying because of the slew of unresolved conflicts it presented. I felt like the conflict with Vito impregnating his sister’s same partner, Maeve, was not properly resolved on stage (there was a sense the characters has talked it out off stage). Pill and his husband, Paul, never properly resolved or discussed their issues – they only yelled at each other. In addition to that, I left the play with a sense that Vito did not have proper closure with his father as the play winded down.

    Vito not having closure with Gus is related to the end of the play where viewers are left with the overwhelming suggestion that he is going to go through with his suicide with Eli’s assistance. That is what what he is “thinking” when he says the final words of the play, “I’m thinking”. I was surprised when an audience member during the talk-back did not take that away from the play’s ending because I thought it was quite clear. I wish there would have been more closure. I understand that it creates room for discussion, but I thought there really was not closure with any of his children aside from Pill. Additionally, I wish we would have heard from Gus’s sister, Zeeko. She just moved away and was never heard from even though she moved close by. Additionally, I did not find the play particularly engaging was the degree of arguing. I became numb to it after a few scenes (perhaps this was intentional), but it just became old and obnoxious and made me want to tune out. I think this was a play intended for an older audience, one that can relate to what it is like to care for an aging parent.

    • Juan, I share your feelings that a lot of the play happened “off stage.” A lot of the time, whether it be from the script or from the interpretation, I found excluded from the intricacies of the plot and its portrayal. Compared to other plays we have seen, I felt – as an audience member – somewhat on the fringe of the action, not drawn in because of my own lack of familiarity with a lot of the discussed concepts, because I did not quite understand the back stories of each character, and because I felt I had not been caught up-to-speed in regards to various conflicts that remained unresolved. This feeling affected my engagement, as I found myself feeling more and more behind as scenes changed. By the end of the play, I felt totally behind and did not fully digest all of the play – for better or worse – until later that evening.

    • Juan,
      I too agree with your interpretation of the ending of the play. I thought that while the “I’m thinking” was meant to end the show on an open ended note, I assumed the implication that the audience was supposed to gather was that Eli would assist Gus in committing suicide. I was also very surprised by the older members of the audience who vehemently disagreed, commenting that they felt Eli was “the only source of love in the play.” This got me thinking about the generational differences among us and the rest of the audience. I wonder if in all the scenes with the overlapping arguments, we all pick up on a different conversation and do older and younger audiences tend to focus on certain character dynamics throughout the play. When I first saw IHO earlier this year, I had a similar reaction that you did to all the arguing. It wasn’t until we actually read the play for this class and I got to see it again that I was truly able to follow more of the arguments because I was able to pick up on bits of each conversation that I knew were important.

  11. There’s a lot of things I want to note about this play.
    1. Personally it was hard for me to become engaged in the play at first. But then slowly I became drawn into the show and I think the factor that contributed the most was actually the length of it all actually. I think the two intermissions were crucial and I can’t think of any other format to have this complex play presented. With that said though, I think it was very hard to have the audience engaged constantly throughout this show.

    2. I noticed some unconventional moments in this play that didn’t align with traditional theatre. As I mentioned in the comment above, the dialogues at times were literally overlapping. There were many times when the actors on stage had their backs to the audience when they were engaged in a conversation. These small things showed how used to I was to a structured form of theatre.

    3. Before attending this show, in our previous blog, we had the opportunity to see the set design. Having the insight prior to watching the show definitely created an expectation of what the show was going to look like. Because the set design we saw was all in white, I thought the set pieces were going to be white. Not that this unexpectedness changed my perspective on the show, it was a subtle letdown and adjustment because I had envisioned the play beforehand.

    4. I also had the privilege to go to the Tony Kushner appearance at Theater J. I remember from his talk how he shuddered at the notion of writing a novel; how he relied on the actors to make his partially formed characters to a full-on real person on stage. Watching this show made me understand what that actually meant a little bit more – how the interpretation of the characters and how the director pieces those characters together. And I can’t quite pinpoint down what made me realize that from this show but going to the talk beforehand gave me more insight into how Kushner writes his plays and that ultimately influenced the way I watched his show.

    5. The show also didn’t feel like a preview at all, which was a very stark contrast from the preview of How We Got On. It felt very much like a real play even though it was a preview.

    6. Lastly, as I expressed in our post-show discussion, Gus is still a very troubling character for me.I understand that he is a fallen hero but that judgement comes with the luxury of us being in the audience. I felt more attached to the situation and couldn’t help but feel frustrated and annoyed by Gus and the toxic situation that divulged the vulnerability of each character.

  12. With a 3.5 hour run-time and a title length to match, as well as an extremely well-known playwright behind it, I had high expectations for Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual… However, the length of the play and the heaviness of the themes is what made it hard for me to enjoy. As one of my fellow students said in the post-show discussion, the play felt very taxing, as we strove to follow each character, each theme, and each conversation that was going on at once. For me, it felt like the play was just trying to tackle too many issues. There was so much going on it was hard to keep track of it, between all the different relationships and political issues and back stories and people talking over each other. This may be a reflection on me as dense or a slow thinker, but when I’m trying to be entertained, which is personally why I go to the theater, I don’t want to put so much effort into it that I feel exhausted at the end.
    I spent a lot of the play wondering why Gus’s kids won’t let him kill himself. He’s in his seventies, none of his offspring seem to like him very much, he’s not contributing anything to society, and above all he truly wants to kill himself. It seems selfish of them to fight him so adamantly on it when they don’t really have a cause. I didn’t see Gus’s suicidal feelings as crazy, but very thought-out and sensible. Though it’s always hard to let go of a loved one, it’s not like he’s never going to die—and dying of Alzheimer’s or heart disease or cancer or whatever would’ve eventually gotten him is a lot less pleasant than the suicide DIY kit. Maybe this was intended to help audience sympathize with people who are suicidal.

    • Sera,
      I agree with you that the play was incredibly lengthy and I’m not convinced that it needed to be that long to still capture the messages Kushner was trying to convey. I felt that during the many scenes that all the family members were fighting and there were many overlapping conversations, there were negative consequences as a result. I felt extremely overwhelmed and missed portions of arguments that would have been very interesting and possibly enlightening to hear. However, I also think Kushner had a purpose for setting these scenes up the way he did. Perhaps it’s meant to give us that overwhelmed feeling the characters are experiencing, or show us that we can’t really listen to what other people are saying if we’re focused on ourselves. I think these parts – and the play as a whole – show us the complexities of our society and the breath of opinions that comprise our nation. No wonder it’s difficult for everyone in this country to stop the bickering and find solutions everyone will be happy with.

  13. Seeing a show in previews is an interesting experience. The product is not quite finished, but is complete (there is a special nuance to the difference between finished and complete in this case). Because of this, you have to take your experience with a grain of salt. The show itself will not change, that is, the lines and scenes and stories are static, but the experience will change in a more substantial way than it normally does from week to week.

    The audience for a show in previews has a unique responsibility, to not simply take in the experience as per usual, but to process it quickly and provide some sort of feedback. Luckily in this forum, we have the opportunity to mull over the production a little longer in order to form our opinions.

    As has been mentioned by most everyone else, this is a long production. Unlike most everyone else, I struggled to stay interested for the full three and a half hours. Although there was ample time for each character to be fleshed out, I never connected with any of the them. Instead felt annoyed at how selfish each one seemed to be. For me to really get into a production, I need to have something to root for, usually a character or outcome. Here, I was rooting for someone to do SOMETHING, and stop talking about everything.

    Objectively, I understand the appeal of such a production centered around a family dynamic such as this. I even can draw parallels between this dysfunctional, fictional family, and my own very real one. However, I felt as if there was too much going on for me to focus on anything. I didn’t mind the talking over each other aspect of the show, but I did mind how many individual storylines were brought up. For most of the show, I was confused about who was mad at who and why, which significantly took away from my enjoyment of the show.

  14. I had the great opportunity to attend Tony Kushner’s talk at Theater J before seeing the performance of his play. Many of the things that he talked about like his childhood and his parents seemed to heavily influence the plot and language of the play. For example, Kushner talked about his family’s opinions on politics and his participation on the George McGovern campaign in his teens. His lively political background translates heavily into The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures. His exploration of the life of an ex-union worker and the intense disagreement with unions in current politics was a very interesting discussion in the play. The use of historical events and people like Vito Marcantonio politicized the play further by bringing the story into real life.

    One of the most fascinating parts of this play was the use of dialogue and speech to create a very rowdy, disordered atmosphere. I had a lot of trouble reading some of this play’s scenes because characters’ lines seem to overlap in confusing and unclear ways. Upon seeing the play, I was able to understand these scenes much better. Kushner uses the dialogue in these scenes to create a more dynamic atmosphere by overlapping many different conversations and thoughts. Kushner implements this in the scene where the suitcase is discovered inside the living room wall. After the mysterious suitcase is found, the characters quickly and humorously forget about it. They move on to their own arguments and discussions. I really liked how the characters were placed in different parts of the stage. One conversation was seen at the bottom left on the stage and the other conversation was happening on center stage. This visual element of the scene clarified some of the confusion I had while reading the play but also added to the disordered atmosphere of the conversations. Attending Tony Kushner’s talk and seeing the play performed at Theater J clarified and enlivened the story for me.

  15. Tony Kushner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures” was everything Ari had been preparing us for. Within seconds of the chaotic opening scene, I knew the 3 and a half hour monster show was going to be an entertaining one. After reading Angels in America and hearing Ari speak about Kushner, I knew this play would be wonderful to watch, but I did not expect to be so interested the entire time. While it is true that part of the reason I paid attention to closely was to try to catch as much dialogue as I could, there were plenty of slower stage moments that I was just as tuned in for.
    This play deals with some very weighty material; suicide, homosexuality, socio-economic ideology, fidelity, identity, ambition, parenthood, and legacy, just to name a few. Because of these serious aspects, I was very appreciative that Kushner also included as much comedy as he did. I think it was an effective way to both give the audience little break from furrowing our brows as well as to highlight the more serious moments in a clearer light when the comedy exited stage right. I also feel this weighty material would not have been given the same time to develop if it had been a 90 minute show. The 3 plus hours run time was worth it for the character development and the complexity of every back story included.
    While parts of the play were obviously written to make the audience think, there were some exchanges that just made me frustrated with the characters, Gus in particular. When he was trying to convince Empty to help him kill himself and ranting about how shitty the world is now because Communism is dead and how it can’t be saved so the smart thing to do is to kill himself, I was really pissed off. Fuck you, Gus. Your daughter gave up her medical aspirations to practice labor law to impress you and you just told her her work is futile and a waste of energy. You claimed to represent humanity against injustice and disenfranchisement yet continually criticize your two children for being homosexual. You ignored and starved your youngest son of attention because his birth was the cause of your wife’s death and you never forgave him for that. Gus was a horrible combination of self-righteous and self-hating, pouting like a child that things didn’t go his way and manipulating his family straight into dysfunction. Not cool, Gus.
    Aside from my frustration with Gus, I really enjoyed this play. I was brought to tears from laughing too much and definitely had my brows furrowed plenty of times. Kushner wrote this play to challenge his audience to think differently, and he definitely succeeded. Congratulations to the cast and production crew for putting this wonderful show together!

    • I think you are spot on in defending the length of the performance. We did not see the full character of Gus — or anyone else, for that matter — until the final few scenes of the play. Gus became exactly what you said for most of the play: a whiny, pithy little brat who blamed his kids while they tried to make him proud. At times, though, I almost felt sorry for him. It was evident that he led a tough life (no excuse) and thus he almost made sense when he wanted to kill himself. Near the end of the show Gus takes on a sense of reason and humility, no matter how hard we try to loathe him.

    • I found myself paying hard attention to the dialogues as well. Gosh, they were so fast. The fact that Kushner had multiple dialogues going on at the same time made me frustrated from the intense concentration it took to catch bits of arguments from everyone. When I read Angel’s in America where a similar thing was happening, I thought that it would be executed less chaotically on stage, but seeing this play made me think that that may not be the case.

      I was also very frustrated with Gus. I hoped that after the heart-to-heart conversation he had with his youngest son he would have really changed his mind, but he didn’t! Then I hoped that the conversation with MT would make him see reason, but that didn’t happen either. That’s when I concluded that Gus is not only selfish, but he is also without reason.

  16. Admittedly, I was terrified before this performance of I-HO began. It was going to be long. I took some solace in the fact that it was Kushner; we had read him before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, when Gus and Eli shared the stage for the final curtain, I was stunned that the play had ended. Kushner wove an incredibly intricate web of tragedy, hope, despair, and love that kept me hooked for the entire three hours and twenty-two minutes (well done, Ari and Theater J).

    I was fascinated with the role that Eli played throughout the story. His presence was integral in both the opening scene, when he is on the phone with Pill, and as the play comes to a close as Gus contemplates his own suicide. While Gus’ family — and everyone remotely connected to the family — sorted through their own troubles, Eli provided almost a steady base for Pill to fall back on. Despite his job title, Eli truly did experience a strong form of love for Pill, and Pill was willing to reciprocate. As his marriage fell apart, and the family situation turned dire, Pill spent more and more time struggling with his emotional attachment to Eli. It was almost as though the audience was tricked or forced into rooting for Pill and Eli to emerge as the two happy victors at the end of the play.

    Gus showed perhaps the only semblance of rational thought and reason among his family even as he contemplated what many consider to be a completely irrational action. In the face of his own suicide, Gus showed love and compassion for the family members who only pretended to find the same emotions for their own blood. As the family situation went to all hell, Gus and Eli shared a touching and intriguing moment together. We, as an audience, are not quite sure what Eli is getting at when sharing his thoughts with Gus and ultimately asking him what he’s thinking. Gus’ simple response, “I’m thinking,” followed by the immediate end to the performance, leave us hanging. Was Eli going to help Gus in his final endeavor? Was he up to something nefarious? We may never fully know, but the man who caused so many problems in the first place turned out to be the one to provide some sort of closure to a lost family trying to find its way; it was an incredible piece of writing, and an incredible first preview performance.

    • Andrew, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the play. I really enjoyed reading your post, as it confirmed some of the thoughts that I had going into the play as well. Though I sometimes enjoy going into the play without having read the script, this was one where it was really helpful to have read the play. I don’t know what proportion of the audience did the same, but I would imagine that it might be a little harder to follow the action of the play without having read it. I, for one, would likely have been too focused on following the dialogue to take note of the whole stage for the duration of this massive production. Similarly, I like how you noted the audience might have been “tricked” into rooting for one character or another, when we might normally not do so. This is something that seems to happen more often for an on-stage production than if you are just reading the play. Ultimately, I can go either way on which enhances the play going experience the most. I’m fairly confident this was an enjoyable experience for everyone regardless!

  17. I was incredibly frustrated with the first act of the show, but that was mostly my fault. I didn’t do any pre-show prep so I came in blind and ignorant to some of the issues that were being discussed. However, as the show went on, and I was able to pick up bits and pieces about the core arguments, I became engaged. When I first heard the incredibly long and descriptive name, I just couldn’t imagine what the storyline would be. But after watching the show it is obvious that the name was very very spot on with the content of the play.

    I was incredibly confused by Gus’ selfishness! The whole time, especially towards the ending of the play, I kept yelling at him in my head: So what if you don’t wanna live anymore? Find a reason to live, a better reason to live! At least for your family! It was heartbreaking to hear MT begging him not to kill himself, and his reasons for wanting to die were just not enough for me. At first I was thinking maybe he was sick and wanted mercy killing, but it turned out he was just bored with life, and that was very selfish. I also agreed with Andrea at the post show discussion that the last scene with Gus and Eli, and how we were left hanging with the last two words from Eli most likely meant that Gus was going to ask Eli to help him die after his daughter had declined to be there for him in that way. Gus was pretty determined to die and I didn’t see any resolve on his part, even after the discussion with MT, that he was going to reconsider killing himself.

    Overall, I think the play was well-executed. There was a bit overacting sometimes especially by the actor who played Pill, but it wasn’t too distracting. However, I didn’t like most of the characters. Paul was a bit more bearable just because I could sympathize with him and his suffering, and he was actually pretty funny sometimes. The aunt was the least annoying character and she was the most fascinating one of them all too. She had done many things in her life. Some she was proud of and some she was ashamed of, and I appreciated that. She spoke the least but made the most impact when she was on stage. She was a very nuanced character, and she is the type of person I wouldn’t mind getting to know.

    • Ann,
      I completely agree with your post. The first act of the play blindsided me because I didn’t prepare myself for what would happened and consequently was extremely perplexed for the majority of it. I also wrote my post on Gus’ choice to commit suicide and I agree that it came off as selfish. I don’t understand his reasoning behind the suicide; he states he wants to kill himself as a statement to the Alzheimer’s disease that he has which doesn’t make sense to me. I know it his reasoning has something to do with the Communist party and furthering the labor movement but I don’t think this reason is enough. I also find it a bit strange that Gus declared to his family that he would attempt suicide again. I don’t know much about the topic but I don’t believe that suicide is something that you just declare and announce to your family.

  18. One of the issues I-HO presented was the issue of faithfulness. Ultimately, all of Gus’ children cheated on their significant others and for the most part led unhappy, unfulfilling lives. I thought Pill’s character was interesting because it seemed he had a real shot to be happy. His partner obviously loved him enough to give up his tenure teaching position, after all. But the argument they had when Pill is trying to convince him to let Eli enter their lives showed that gay couples are just like heterosexual couples in many ways; they all fight and struggle to connect sometimes and sometimes it just plain doesn’t work out. So when they said they’re not always going to be this perfect gay couple that has a relationship of bliss, it made a lot of sense because relationships take work in every situation.

    Something Gus kept repeating stuck with me after the show. He repeatedly brought up this idea of prison. He tells his daughter, “I’m alone in this prison, and you’re alone in yours,” and I think that applied to his belief that society and his family were trying to exert control over him. I’ll be honest that I was raised with the belief that capitalism and free markets are positive traits for societies. However, Gus made me question this belief at points during the play and offered a kind of pushback that I really appreciated. He says that the working class gets the short end of the stick because human workers are being replaced with machines that the profits they created bought. The workers create the wealth but don’t get a part of it. So in that sense, I paused considering if our capitalism society is a truly equitable in its distribution of wealth. However, the play also mocks Gus at parts; after all, he has gotten paid for doing nothing for the last 20 or so years – and that doesn’t seem fair either. Eli doesn’t seem to mind capitalism. He makes $300/hr in his line of work. I think Kushner accomplished what he meant to do, and made us think about what we really want out of our government.

  19. I-HO presents us with yet another cross- section of a family’s home, and the relationship between the members of the family. Needless to say, with this being a reunion, all the people involved, and the length of the play, it had different levels of complexity from what we saw in the home settings of Bad Jews, Awake and Sing, and Belleville.

    One of the indicators of the complexity of the play to me was the resulting noise from all the talking that was taking place. Everyone seemed to want to be heard out. Also, when the conversations between different parties overlapped, I sensed it even more. Somehow they were all fighting to validate their points in their conversations, and fighting to have their voices heard by the other members of the family, and by the audience. As I struggled to make sense of what was going on at the time, I was forced to try to focus on one conversation at a time, blocking out all the rest.

    Another indicator of the complexity of the play was the set. It was a rather simple set, but scattered along it, one could see a lot of unevenness. The bookshelf was not regularly straight, the brownstone up above was tilted at an angle, and even the wall that ended up getting broken, was already patterned with cracks of unequal shapes and sizes. Observing the set was a reaffirmation for me that there was overlap in the family’s drama, but an interesting kind that was revealed in cracks of their relationships.

    Also, I found it rather interesting that in the beginning, especially, Gus was usually sitting in the background, reading his book, while some other action took place with the other family members. His background presence foreshadowed his being the center of all their individual dramas. At the end of the day, with all the cheating going on, the exploration of sex and money, the baby on the way, and the conflicting ideals, he was ultimately the center and focus of the family at this time.

  20. This play was probably the most cognitively demanding play that I have seen thus far. By that I mean that the play was so eloquently written with a complicated and clever word choice especially when it came to the political systems that the characters believed in. For example, when Maeve introduces herself she says “Maeve Ludens, Doctor of Theology, unemployed, not exactly a bull market out there for us apophatic theologians, with a, with, you know, pronounced kataphatic inclinations.” It was also hard to piece together the play because the exchanges between the characters usually involved heated arguments between four or more characters at the same time.

    Even though I knew that there would be some philosophical aspects to the play, I didn’t expect it to be so informative and eloquent. Paul and Empty had their own fair shares of intelligent speech since both of them were theologians; both of them had plenty of ideas about philosophy, theology and Communism. The dialogue was so well written and poetic (especially with Paul) that I found myself focusing more on what was being said than what was going on in the play.

    Another part of the play that caught my attention was Gus’ threat to commit suicide. I still don’t understand what his reasons for this are. He states that he wants to die because of his Alzheimer’s and because his wife is dead but I feel that there is an underlying reason as to why he would do such a thing. One scene that made me very uncomfortable was when Shelle, a widow whose husband committed suicide, came over and passed along very graphic instructions and materials to assist Gus in committing his own suicide. What bothered me more was that Empty could even witness this and could stand to hear how her father would kill himself. Though she was squeamish and clearly looked uncomfortable, it still bothered me that she was present for this exchange.

  21. In many ways, this play was the most entertaining of our theater going experience this semester. I-HO brought together a huge number of ideas and themes and managed to combine them into a play that was really amazing its breadth and depth. This is by no means the primary virtue of the play. In fact, what might be even more surprising to the theater going amateur is just how entertaining it manages to be, all the while presenting in a thoroughly engaging way a number of ideas and characters that are thought-provoking and controversial. Among the themes presented in this play, one of family stuck out to me as being particularly interesting. This is a theme we’ve seen now in a number of our plays this semester. Families have been shown to be both helpful and detrimental to some characters’ development. Ultimately, it becomes pretty hard to generalize about family dynamics. Clearly, at least in our shows this semester, we’ve seen all types. In I-HO, we are confronted with a family dynamic as complicated as any we have seen. Suicide threats and attempts, surrogacy issues, extra-marital affairs, and other, more typical family problems, abound. Weaving throughout all family interactions is the stunning dialogue that stood out to me as a high point of both the play writing and production. Whether in monologue, intimate back and forth between partners, or the simultaneous, entire family scenes that I enjoyed the most, the skill of the writing stands out throughout this play. So too does the talent of our cast in this play, all of whom do an excellent job of bringing the play to life before the eyes of the audience. While it really is difficult to summarize the family dynamics in this play in a word or two, words like “complicated” or “messy” might do the best job of describing it. I think one of the things this play challenges us to realize is that that situation is not unique to this family or this play, but to much more than that. In the end, I-HO was both an enjoyable and thought-provoking production that has enriched our experience this semester.

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