Sunday, May 24, 2009

That's Entertainment!

Before our Grinch-like governor slashed spending and cut vital services for the poor, elderly, sick, and puppies to the bone, Minnesota used to be a state that "invested" in projects that improved the quality of life for all Minnesotans. You know, important vital works like the latest and greatest version of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

This weekend, we get to see the payoff from that investment with a world premiere at the Guthrie:

Now retired and bored to the point of translating Latin during his empty days, Gus reasons suicide is a mere formality. His three children demur, and in that conflict Tony Kushner searches for his play, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures," which had its world premiere Friday at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Director Michael Greif has given Kushner a good look at what he's written. The lines sound great in the actors' mouths, their performances are excellent and Greif dances this show across the Guthrie stage with humor and muscular strokes -- fighting the script's occasional exhausted ennui. Now the playwright can set his hands to clarifying his irresolute intentions, for Kushner has not yet discovered his own purpose in writing this play.

It is a very American work -- a dense rush of ideas and diatribes about the working man, wealth, spiritual unease and meaningful purpose. Gus finds his exaltation in union wages and justice rather than sales commissions, but he lives only a subway ride away from Willy Loman.

The similarity, however, points up an important distinction. Arthur Miller and his American realist cohorts -- Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill for example -- used dialogue as a scalpel to cut their characters open. Kushner's strength always has been proclamation -- bold and at times preachy in its ambition, epic in its spectacle and sprawl. In this milieu, his operatic cacophony at times skates precipitously close to the razor's edge of incoherence. The wash of recitative becomes more of an irritant than a revelatory acid.

Honey, what do you want to do tonight?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe find something with ennui and operatic cacophony that borders on irritating incoherence. Any ideas?

No, but could we get some familial dysfunction too?

Kushner dresses the three children in various costumes of dysfunction. Linda Emond's Maria Teresa (M.T.), a labor lawyer and Gus' middle child, provides whatever heart exists. She has her issues -- such as a tryst with her ex-husband (Mark Benninghofen), who is living in the brownstone's basement, while her lesbian partner, Maeve (Charity Jones), is pregnant. The father is M.T.'s brother, Vito (Ron Menzel), a bristling and volcanic font of testosterone-infused anger.

The third child is Pill (Stephen Spinella), who borrowed $30,000 from M.T., spent it on a prostitute (Michael Esper) and now wants his husband, Paul (Michael Potts), to consider a three-way arrangement. Pill seems a vestige of "Angels in America," a confused lover who, if we wish to be generous, is adrift in life. More soberly, his dissolute self-pity wrecks the lives around him.

Perhaps the father's suicide shouldn't be off the table after all...

Definitely a family that anyone can relate to. And one that those attending the play should get to know quite well as the performance clocks in at an arse and mind numbing THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS. The show's Guthrie run ends June 28th so you'll want to be sure to get there soon and reap the rich rewards from a time when Minnesota "worked."

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