Some projects are riskier than others. Boston Theatre Works came to notice several seasons ago with an award-winning area premiere of William's "Not About Nightingales". Having lost their usual venue this year to a freak car accident, BTW's January production of "The Tempest" with Jonathan Epstein of Shakespeare & Co. had to be done in the BCA's Cyclorama, a huge unique space with maddening acoustics. Now for an encore, artistic director Jason Southerland has taken on Tony Kushner's much revised "Homebody/Kabul". The script begins with an Alan Bennett style monologue, originally written as a solo piece, prologue to a three-act family drama with mysterious overtones. While this makes for a long evening and the indulgent nature of Kuschner's writing suggests a exotic British novel with touches of magic realism rather than a drama, this production hold interest, though the end still seems inconclusive.
Things start off well enough with local favorite, award-winning actress Nancy E. Carroll as the Homebody, a dreamy British matron. Carroll, who got kudos for Momo in Murphy's "Baliegangaire" three years ago, has little difficulty holding the stage alone during this prologue. But her presence fades by the second, as Kuschner's dramaturgy turns too much to plotting, not his strong point. The cast for this foreign intrigue includes local favorites like Helen McElvain, last seen as the heroine in Ginger Lazarus's "Matter Familias" at the BPT, as Homebody's disturbed daughter Priscilla. Then there's Nathaniel McIntyre as Quango Twisteton, a heroin-addicted expiate who's the informal British charges d'affaire under the chaotic regime of the Taleban, the same part Bill Camp played in Berkley Rep's Off-Broadway production two years ago. Camp, an old Boston Shakespeare hand, is a frequent ART performer, most recently seen in the leading role as Sir Brute in their season opener, Vaughn "The Provoked Wife". McIntyre appeared last fall with his wife, Stacy Fischer, in Stoneham's smart production of "The Violet Hour". Fischer is finishing her run in Sugan's revival of Murphy's "The Sanctuary Lamp" next door in the new Robert's studio. And they're both Publick Theatre veterans, as is Carroll. The Boston theatrical world has wheels within wheels too.
The role of Homebody's depressed husband, a communications engineer, is taken by Bill Molnar Molnar was just upstairs at the BCA playing the King in BTW's "The Tempest", after appearing with Publick Theatre last summer. Residents of Kabul include Shakespeare & Co. veteran John Rahal Sarrouf as the Tajiek tourist guide, Khwaja, who seeks Priscilla out for his own reasons, and Michelle Dowd who's appeared for Speakeasy and Zeitgeist, as Mahala, an upper class woman, formerly a librarian, desperate to leave the country. Sujoy De seen at the Hovey, Paul Giragos,who did Jesus in "Godspell" last fall, and Amar Srivastava, currently doing educational theatre. play more sinister parts, often speaking in languages of the region or accented English. These, and the British accents of the Ceilings and Twistleton were coached by Laura Hitt from the Boston Conservatory with quite believable results. Most of the cast have done a sufficient variety of period or classic roles which helps.
Northeastern's Zeynep Bakkal has provided a simple set design which places the Homebody's kitchen, where the play opens and closes, on a raised platform upstage between the BCA Plaza's permanent pillars. As a backdrop, upstage on either side, projections of photos change with the scenes. For the Kabul sequence, a low crumbling wall stretches along the back with entrances built in. The textured ground cloth resembles crushed rubble. A few pieces of furniture and necessary props allow the action to proceed from place to place, though integral planning and better furniture choices would have made this less distracting. Ace lighting designer John R.Malinowski once again takes on the limited angles of this theatre and provides a variety of isolated areas and atmospheric effects. K. Bud Durrand provides a soundscape with touches of regional music and the Sinatra tunes required for the show. B.U.'s Nancy Lynn Leary, who normally does larger scale productions, provides appropriate western and Afghani dress with able assistance from Amy Wright. The script is well served by BTW's technical support.
Kushner has been credited for some sort of prescience in this work which he began in 1998, but actual developments in the ancient Middle East since 9/11 don't correspond to history he's imbedded in the play. Which is actually irrelevant since "Homebody/Kabul" is primarily using this political tension as a convoluted metaphor for the dysfunctional family whose fate winds through the action. While Mrs. Ceiling, the homebody who runs off to Kabul, initiates the journey to the east, it's Priscilla's desperate urge to discover her mother's fate which is the core of the play, with Milton's helplessness as counterpoint. A character with Quango's connections is necessary for the action, but the caricature of a dope fiend crossed with a drone from P.G.Wondrous seems rather out of place. The ensemble however works intently with the material and Kuhn language often carries the day where his dramaturgy doesn't. The risk of producing this somewhat ungainly not-quite-finished piece using local resources has paid off.
Later in the spring BTW will be finishing their season in collaboration with Speakeasy Stage presenting Richard Goldberg's award-winning "Take Me Out", supported by Broadway in Boston. The show will be in the new Roberts Studio next door, a larger venue, with McIntyre and Molnar in the cast. McElvain will appear in a new play by Janet Kenney, "My Heart and My Flesh", when the Coyote Theatre comes off hiatus this spring. Carroll has the lead in the New Rep's Newton farewell production of "Into the Woods".And Kushner's play with Laura Bush reading to dead Iraqi children as the main character has been causing predictable controversy in western Massachusetts.
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