Shalom Life | December 28, 2015

Shaw Festival Review: The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide...

Tony Kushner’s family drama challenges it’s audiences on so many levels, it leaves you breathless and beaten. It is awesome; astounding, humbling, overwhelming and remarkable.

By: Hermine Steinberg

Published: August 26th, 2015 in Culture » Stage » Reviews

Shaw Festival Review: The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide...

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (IHO) is the name of award winning Tony Kushner’s family drama that challenges it’s audiences on so many levels, it leaves you breathless and beaten. It is awesome; astounding, humbling, overwhelming and remarkable.

The long-winded title was inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism and Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. And if you think the title is a bit daunting, be prepared that this almost four hour tour de force either references or directly refers to a dizzying array of subjects, from Hegel and Horace to Marx, Chekhov, Verdi, Dante, and many more. Kushner accomplishes this without one minute of boredom and somehow connecting what could be abstract philosophy to the very personal challenges and concerns of our time. And, in the midst of all these weighty issues, he is also able to interject humour.

I must warn you that fans of Angels of America, of which I am one and must confess is what first drew me to this play, should be prepared for a very different experience. There is no doubt that you will enjoy Kushner’s intellectualism, insight, and laser-like dissection of the human condition, but it will leave you feeling much of the despair and disillusionment this story examines.

The plot revolves around retired longshoreman Gus Marcantonio who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone that has been passed down for three generations. It is 2007; he holds a family meeting with his sister Clio who has been living with him for the past year and his three children. Gus gathers his clan to announce that he has decided to sell the brownstone, divide the proceeds between his children, and then take his own life. Gus has Alzheimers and claims he is beginning to feel his mind slipping away.

For an intellectual and a labour activist, it would appear there could not be a worst ending to one’s life. For most writers, dealing with the issues of the right to die or dying with dignity would be substantial enough to construct a meaningful play, but what we soon discover is that this is merely the backdrop or catalyst to the unraveling of a tight knit family’s history of conflict and despair. We are taken through a roller coaster ride of discourse about revolution, theology, the labour movement, gay rights, literature, and capitalism. Gus and his two gay left-wing children, one a labour lawyer and one a history teacher, both married to theology professors, and a son who is a construction worker, along with their aunt who is a former nun and Maoist, try to find their way through the crisis that has landed on their doorstep. Despite all the yelling, sex, twists and turns of their lives, at the heart of all this seeming chaos is Gus confronting the fact that he has lost faith in his ideals, in his dream of what could be. His life no longer has meaning, and his children feel the abandonment of knowing his dreams are more important to him than his family.

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