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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Laura Hitchcock

In Homebody/Kabul Tony Kushner has moved the dysfunctional family "out from under all that crying in the kitchen nights when nobody could hear and into the great world beyond where people who hate. . .murder one another, we're far beyond fathers and daughters and all that, look what she's done, where she's brought us. We're at the stage of blood sacrifices, right?"

So cries Priscilla to her father Milton in the Kabul hotel room where they're waiting for news of the wife and mother who chose to wander off into the Afghanistan night. This has been an important play since its conception five years ago, not only because of its subject matter but because of its width and depth. In the year the Mark Taper Forum (in conjunction with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre) gave Kushner to expand his play, he's grown it beyond the juxtaposition of Eastern and Western culture, the menace of colonialism and religious fanaticism, the easy politics to a level where factionalism whether political, cultural, familial or sexual is displayed in all its destructive hubris. A major character is Khwaja, the poet who learned Esperanto in prison and wants Priscilla to smuggle his poems, written in this universal language, to England. Here the playwright, is demonstrating this futile attempt to find a universal language, expresses a hope that never dies.

Clocking in at four hours, the play still has its puzzlements and disconcertingly abrupt transitions. But, like the great Russian novels, it's something you can gnaw on for days.

It begins with the monologue Homebody, originally written as a one-act play, and performed with intimate intelligence by Linda Emond. A reader who loves to use long obscure words, she seeks out dated guide books to study Afghanistan, as if tomes written decades before technology brought her closer to the lay of the land. She brings out of a shopping bag ten fezes (hats) bought for a party. With each one, the audience coos appreciatively until it becomes almost an audience participation part of the play, like the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game. Some of the answers to the mysterious question of why this woman went to Kabul may be found more in the closing lines of the monologue than in her fantasy of making love to the merchant with the maimed hand who sold her the hats: ". . .the homebody, safe in her kitchen, suffering uselessly, watching others perish. . .the terrible silent gardens of the private. . .the touch which does not understand is the touch which corrupts and which corrupts itself."

The play moves on to Kabul where the bleak relationship between these British parents and their daughter plays out among their encounters with Kwaja; Mahala, who brilliantly represents an educated woman's plight under the Taliban, driving her to the heights of insanity or fury; the quasi-official British escort of the frantic family, Quango Twistleton, a do-gooder who has succumbed to the luxury of the heroin he can easily afford in Afghanistan. Kushner makes much of Kabul as the mythical tomb of the Biblical Cain, father of all murders.

The Taper has more than done justice to this play which will be a lasting contribution to the dramatic canon. Linda Emond, who created the original Homebody, recreates that part here, projecting hints of the remarkable woman beneath the dowdy bourgeois housewife. Maggie Gyllenhall is fierce and passionate as the love-starved British girl and Rita Wolf is fiery and grounded as Mahala. Firdous Bamji brings out the humanistic quality so necessary to Khwaja. Reed Birney is the quintessential uptight twit until it's a matter of life or death, in this case Mahala's, where Birney blazes through. Bill Camp expresses the bewildered dessicated timid life of Quango Twistleton.

They've all had the advantage of Frank Galati's astute direction which infuses the difficulties and diversities of this immense work with the edge-of-the-chair dramatic suspense of a one-on-one encounter.

James Schuette's powerful set design sets the ruins of Kabul against an overarching perennially sunset sky, superbly lit by Christopher Akerlind. Mara Blumenfeld designed the costumes, expressing exotic Oriental flair and drab British conventionality.

Lacing the many movements of Kushner's increasingly metaphysical dance are his gifts of humor, the richness of his metaphoric lyricism and the telling epigram. The epilogue between Priscilla and Mahala in the Homebody's living room where the play began offers no easy answers. Priscilla, still bewildered, nevertheless soldiers on. Mahala is sane. The scene seems superfluous. But it's reminiscent of the Homebody's definition of love: "What else is love but recognition? Love's nothing to do with happiness. Power has to do with happiness. Love has only to do with home."

For a review of the play in NY -- some of the same cast, different director, go here.

Playwright: Tony Kushner
Director: Frank Galati
Cast: Linda Emond (Homebody), Maz Jobrani (Dr. Qari Shah), Aasif Mandvi (Mullah Ali Aftar Durranni), Reed Birney (Milton Ceiling), Bill Camp (Quango Twistleton), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Priscilla Ceiling), Rahul Gupta (A Munkrat/Border Guard), Firdous Bamji (Khwaja Aziz Mondanabosh), Dariush Kashani (Zai Garshi), Rita Wolf (Mahala)
Set Design: James Schuette
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Costume Design: Mara Blumenfeld&

Running Time: Four hours with two intermissions
Running Dates: September 21-November 9, 2003
Where: The Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. Phone: (213) 628-2772.&br> Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.October 1.
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