Reviewed by James Karas
**** (out of five)
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures is the long title of Tony Kushner’s long play at the Shaw Festival’s Studio Theatre. The title is a throwback to Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism and the rest comes from Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The references to the two texts are of some interest but they are not essential to enjoying the play.
The cast of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. Photo by David Cooper.
Intelligent is the saga of the Marcantonio family that deals with events in 2007 but reaches back to 1892 when the first of its members emigrated from Italy to New Jersey. Gus Marcantonio (Jim Mezon) is the head of the family and, fearing the onset of Alzheimer’s, he attempts to commit suicide. Gus is a dedicated communist and a former longshoreman. His union negotiated a guaranteed income for him and other senior members which means he has been paid without working as a longshoreman for decades.
The Marcantonios are a smart and eccentric family. Gus’s sister Clio (Fiona Reid) is a former nun who became a Maoist. His son Pill (Steven Sutcliffe) is a history teacher working on his dissertation. He is also a homosexual addicted to paid sex. He spends a lot of money paying Eli (a prostitute) for sex. His regular partner is Paul (Andre Sills), a Harvard man.
Gus’s daughter Empty (Kelli Fox) was married to Adam (Thom Marriott) but divorced him and now is in love with Maeve (Diana Donnelly). Maeve wants a child and she is impregnated by Empty’s brother Vito (Gray Powell), a construction worker.
We also have Michelle (Julie Martell), a friend of Gus and a suicide consultant.
This colourful group deals with a number of subjects both personal and socio-political. Kushner combines the two to avoid the danger of writing a melodrama about a family only or a political essay. The socio-political arguments touch on American politics, the Communist Party, the place of unions and the state of the world, if you will. On the personal level the most pressing issue is Gus’s attempt to kill himself but Pill’s relations with Paul and Eli are troubled not least by the fact that he spent Empty's savings which were meant for Maeve to get artificial insemination on a prostitute.
Adam is a real estate lawyer trying to sell Gus’s house. He is unscrupulous and lives in Gus’s house.
The language is salty, the family gatherings are loud and there is one segment where six people talk/yell simultaneously for a very long time. There is graphic simulated sex and homosexual kissing.
Jim Mezon as Gus Marcantonio. Photo by David Cooper.
Despite its length of almost four hours, the plot moves quite well. The characters are interesting and the acting superb. Mezon has the toughest role. He is a man at the end of his rope and he sees darkness ahead but also darkness behind. His involvement with the longshoremen resulted in him getting a guaranteed income while the less senior members eventually lost their jobs. Is that what a union is about?
Sutcliffe, head shaved and marvelously expressive voice, is superb as the troubled teacher with a ravenous sexual appetite. Diana Donnelly is quite funny as the somewhat crazy and pregnant partner of Empty who succumbed to sex with Vito rather than follows the orthodox way of artificial insemination.
Fiona Reid is in her own world as a Maoist who was in Peru and is on her way to who-knows-where. Reid gives a fine performance of detachment and concern.
The play takes place between June 12 and 14, 2007. Kushner is very detailed in many respects including providing a lengthy chronology of the family history from the first arrivals in the United States in 1892 to Gus’s attempted suicide on June 10, 2007.
The setting by Peter Hartwell is the Marcantonio home consisting of a table and chairs and bits of furniture as well as a second floor bedroom. The set for the City Hall Park consists of a panel and a railing and the set of Eli’s apartment is non-descript..
Director Eda Holmes directs the docudrama with a superb and knowing hand. The pacing is excellent and in the end we are all carried along by the twists and turns of the story of this amazing family.
A very good night at the theatre.
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures by Tony Kushner runs until October 10, 2015 in the Studio Theatre of the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.