Review: Kushner’s new play is vital, intense, intelligent

Lou Liberatore (Pill) and Jordan Geiger (Eli) portray lovers in the West Coast premiere of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, an epic family drama. Photo: kevinberne.com

Lou Liberatore (Pill) and Jordan Geiger (Eli) portray lovers in the West Coast premiere of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, an epic family drama. Photo: kevinberne.com

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) is back in Berkeley with his vital, intense and intelligent new epic drama about the fascinating Italian American Marcantonio family and their political, social, sexual, economic and religious lives. After earlier versions of the play opened at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater in 2009 and at New York’s Public Theater in 2011, Tony Kushner is now satisfied with his re-written version for Berkeley Rep.

The family patriarch, 72-year old Gus Marcantonio (Mark Margolis), a lifetime Communist, retired dockworker and union organizer has decided to commit suicide. The reasons for his suicide wish don’t seem especially compelling, yet we learn that he made a serious suicide attempt one year prior to the action of the play.

Gus gathers his rambunctious family at their Brooklyn brownstone to tell them of his decision. Soon, we are confronted by the family’s cacophony of simultaneous, passionate voices arguing at, and to, each other, in a melée of Mamet-like exchanges. 

Emmy-nominated actor Mark Margolis (Gus) and screen and stage actress Deirdre Lovejoy (Empty) are part of the ensemble cast in The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. Photo: kevinberne.com

Emmy-nominated actor Mark Margolis (Gus) and screen and stage actress Deirdre Lovejoy (Empty) are part of the ensemble cast in The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. Photo: kevinberne.com

Gus’s sister Clio (Randy Danson) — an inscrutable ex-nun, ex-Maoist Shining Path member and Mary Baker Eddy reader — is unruffled by the thought of Gus’s suicide. His daughter Empty (Deirdre Lovejoy), a labor lawyer and expectant parent by her pregnant lover, theologian Maeve (Liz Wisan) is desolate and angry. Perhaps this is why she sleeps with her ex-husband, real estate lawyer Adam (Anthony Fusco), who still mourns their failed marriage and lives in the brownstone’s basement.

Gus’s gay son, high-school teacher, Pill (Lou Liberatore) is preoccupied with his affair with a young male prostitute, Eli (Jordan Geiger) and the resulting crisis it brings to his 26-year marriage to theology professor Paul (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson).

The youngest, weakest sibling, non-intellectual contractor Vito or “V” (Joseph J. Parks) is the married straight son. He’s haunted by his observance of Gus’ previous suicide attempt and his fathering of Maeve’s baby.

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures is more than another play about a dysfunctional family. As Tony Kushner explains, “The play explores revolutionary versus evolutionary change, the history of Italian-American radicalism, marriage, sex, sexual identity, prostitution, parenting, politics, theology, real estate, debts both repaid and unpayable, and unions of all kinds.”

In addition to the characters’ remarkable and pervasive emotional issues, the drama contains scholarly nods to Arthur Miller’s View From the Bridge, Budd Schulberg’s screenplay, On the Waterfront, Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, as well as 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 (from which the play’s unwieldy title was derived).

Berkeley Rep’s artistic director Tony Taccone’s almost 40-year history with Tony Kushner (he commissioned Kushner’s Angels in America) has led to Taccone’s expert understanding of Kushner’s works. In addition to Taccone’s talent, Kushner’s creative genius, a marvelous cast of actors, especially Mark Margolis and Deidre Lovejoy, and an outstanding scenic design by Christopher Barecca, all combine to leave audience challenged, fascinated, excited and wanting more, despite the lengthy three-and-a half-hour production.

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures is playing at Berkeley Rep through Sunday, June 29, 2014. For information and tickets, visit Berkeley Rep online.

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  • Carol R Strand

    This reads like a review by someone who didn’t actually see the play, but only read about it. I did see it . I agree that the actors were marvelous and the set amazing, but this play was simply too long. Now, Angels was also long but who noticed? This play, however, said the same thing over and over and then, just to make we sure we got it, over again. I don’t mean that literally, of coursebut, well, intellectually. It was also very hard to connect with the characters, and we need that to truly fall into a play and lose track of time.

    Had it been an hour shorter, I think it would have been amazing. It finally got there in the last act but … well, it took too long to get there.

  • Sean K

    Mark Margolis is a great character actor who’s done fantastic work in films like “Scarface” and of course the epic TV series “Breaking Bad”. Odd, that the reviewer doesn’t even mention that.