The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures

Theatre, Drama
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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A New York family struggle to find meaning in Tony Kushner's maddeningly sprawling play

It’s not just the title of Tony Kushner’s 2009 play that makes it a hard sell (in full, it’s ‘The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures’, although Hampstead Theatre is valiantly trying to rebrand it ‘#iHo’). This play is a thoroughly daunting prospect all round: three-and-a-half hours of relentless family rowing about the undignified death of New York’s radical politics.

Gus is an ageing trade unionist and card carrying communist who’s assembled his grown-up kids in the family’s Brooklyn brownstone house to tell them that he’s selling the place, and killing himself – he says he’s got dementia, but David Calder’s elaborately cantankerous performance immediately suggests there’s something a little more complex at play. But they’re far from ready to let him go. Tamsin Greig is on bristling form as M-T, a woman who’s followed her father into the family trade and works as an employment lawyer – her furious arguments with him are a fascinating insight into the flaws of ‘softly-softly’ politics versus his favoured strategy of radical action. Meanwhile her brother Pill has taken his own post-communist stand by paying a male hustler for sex, while reducing the language of Marxism into an uncommonly highbrow piece of foreplay. 

The stage fills with relatives and partners, and they all treat each other appallingly: M-T cheats on her pregnant wife with her ex-husband, in a maddeningly cliched lesbian storyline. But then if this dauntingly highbrow clan prove anything, it’s that being smart and being wise don’t correlate one bit – each family member finds bewilderingly intelligent reasons to do very, very stupid things.

These very, very stupid things (leaving life partners for rent boys, joining Shining Path, smashing axes into walls, getting a woman you don’t love pregnant with your brother’s sperm) multiply exhaustingly, without ever making sense: this plot throws up more red herrings than a communist fish stall. It’s the kind of chewy, complicated, messy play that I wish I could have loved - and at its best, Kushner’s dialogue sparks and capers in a joyful polysyllabic spree. But he ultimately pours the contents of his voluminous library into a play that shows that in the end, none of these ideas matter. And as the ideologies tumble, the thin stereotypes he’s written fall down too.

By: Alice Savile

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