By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The opening monologue is now finished, and so is Homebody. We learn from a conversation between her husband, Milton (Charles Shaw Robinson), and a local doctor (Julian Lopez-Morillas) that Homebody had arrived in Kabul unescorted, face exposed, wearing jeans and carrying a portable CD player, and that she is said to have been torn literally limb from limb by the Taliban. Yet in the play‘s central mystery, the family is not shown her remains, raising discomfiting speculation. Perhaps she has chosen to dispose of everything in her Western past, including her husband and daughter, Priscilla (Heidi Dippold). Curiously, Milton seems almost relieved by the prospect of his wife’s demise, preferring to shoot heroin or to languish in an opium den with a British non-government agent named Quango Twistleton (Bruce McKenzie) -- a self-described “character in a P.G. Wodehouse novel.” Priscilla begins a reckless crusade to make contact with her mother, dead or alive, while a gentle Tajik writer (Harsh Nayyar) tries to persuade her to smuggle his Esperanto “poems” -- which may or may not contain a terrorist plot -- to a London contact.
One can only speculate on why, as the play expands theatrically from monologue to epic drama, its artistry contracts. Other than the self-knowing Homebody and a literate Pashtun woman (Jacqueline Antaramian) desperate to escape to the West, the characters feel no weightier than a Brechtian cartoon. Or perhaps it‘s just the performances. (Dippold’s Priscilla weeps and whines her way through almost two and a half hours, as though, without her crying a river, we won‘t understand how upset she is about her mum.) In either case, after such a great setup, one can’t help but feel a certain deflation.
HomebodyKabul‘s scenario was apparently inspired by an actual Englishwoman who arrived in Kabul, unescorted and underdressed, and was put on the next plane home. So Homebody’s making it through customs is already a bit of a stretch. But why would somebody this knowledgeable and reflective come to the city under such circumstances? What was she thinking? Whatever it was rubs against the breadth of the intelligence displayed in her monologue. And why does Priscilla wander around Kabul with an exposed midriff and a CD player peeking out from under her opened burka -- the costume is specified by Kushner -- knowing that her mother might have been ripped to pieces for making just such a display of herself? Whether this is a comment on Western arrogance or merely on Priscilla‘s suicidal tendencies, it, too, chafes.
And yet, with all such frictions and the blisters that ensue, HomebodyKabul is an important play, and Kushner’s voice is heroic and rare.
In a 1996 Salon interview, Kushner points out the primary distinction between screenwriting and playwriting: “Screenwriting is primarily a narrative art -- and I don‘t think that’s true of playwriting, which is dialogic and dialectic.” With the possible exception of Donald Freed, Kushner is the only American playwright grappling with history on such an epic scale while performing somersaults with words, reminding us that poetry and politics can -- and should -- share the same stage.