There are few playwrights working today like Tony Kushner. The man is truly a rare breed – I mean, to create one masterful epic play (in today’s world) is an accomplishment. It doesn’t happen like in days of yore. Things either get workshopped out of epic-ness because of commercial reasons or playwrights choose to write smaller (usually for commercial/financial reasons) and so while we get great plays… we don’t often get Great plays.
So Homebody/Kabul was a surprise for me. Sure, I’d heard of it. “Kushner’s best play since Angels in America.” Well, no offense, reviewers, but that doesn’t mean much. Angels was a pretty colossal work and one that towers over just about everything else. Just about anything you write after that is going to pale in comparison and if you happen to write something even half as good, that’s still a relative statement when you look at the size and scope and awesome power of “that play.” Happily, this play is more than half as good. I’m not sure “just as good” is the right term – it isn’t, simply because of the lasting impact of Angels – but Homebody/Kabul would be a colossal play on its own terms had Angels not come first. It’s the sort of epic people like myself die to write – and Kushner has written two of them.
The circumstances surrounding the play are perhaps as important as the play itself. It premiered just a few months after 9/11. Lines in the play, as Kushner himself notes, seem “eerily prescient” – like one about the Taliban coming to New York. Scary, considering this play was “done” well before that horrible day. (I put done in quotes because Kushner went back and revised/expanded the play for its 2004 Broadway run.) Maybe if this play had come out sooner, we might have seen the error of our ways or at least seen a light into the ‘darkness’ of the Middle East. Or maybe not – Angels didn’t really change anything, did it?
So anyway, the play itself. It’s really two plays, first of all. The first, “Homebody,” is the first scene of Act One. In performance, it (according to reviews, etc) lasts about an hour and (in an STC quote) fully realizes the character of the Homebody and makes her such a presence… that when she never appears again, you still WANT her to appear. There is a deep and innate feeling of how strong her presence was because of it just being you and her for such a sustained period of time that when she’s gone, it is a definite absence.
The second play, “Kabul,” deals with the aftermath of that disappearance. Essentially. The Homebody’s husband and daughter are in Afghanistan, where the Homebody fled to… and she’s apparently dead. Beaten in the streets kind of dead. The play deals with coming to terms with this – Milton, the husband, just kind of accepts it while Priscilla, the daughter, doesn’t believe it – and with the gaping disconnects between West and Middle East. Priscilla finds out that her mother may be alive. She never conclusively finds out, though – only through hearsay, second-hand information. In the meantime, though, she experiences a society and a culture and a place so thoroughly alien from her own (being the West – combined US/UK… I mean, people yell at her and she tells them she’s not an American and they basically say they don’t care). This changes her, intrinsically. I think that’s the major message of the play. The fact that the younger generation is the one that comes away most positively from the experience.
I spent most of Contemporary talking about this play today and so I’m kinda worn out about it. So I’ll just say that I loved it. I thought it was incredibly powerful, very intelligent, and very Important. I think it said good things and I think, on stage, it would be a powerful sight (like Angels). Read/see this play.