American playwright Tony Kushner is one of the most important playwrights of contemporary theatre. He also remains conspicuously under-produced in our fair city. His landmark play Angels in America (since adapted into a popular HBO miniseries) has received only one Toronto production in CanStage’s 1996 season, noticeably absent from any season at Buddies. It’s unsurprising then, in a way, that Mercury Stage’s production of Homebody/Kabul at the Berkeley Street Theatre, a play that caused quite a stir in New York and London about six years ago is its Canadian premiere.
Like Angels in America, Homebody/Kabul is a two-part epic, only this time, you have to sit through both plays at once. The “Homebody” section is a complete, self-contained unit; an hour-long monologue given by a nameless British housewife who becomes fascinated by Afghanistan. Mercury has staged two coups in this production: one, the fact that theirs is the Canadian premiere; two, that they got Fiona Reid to play The Homebody. The monologue is a beautiful, perfect piece of Kushner at his verbose, grandiloquent best. After this sequence has ended, the “Kabul” section begins immediately and we are launched into a three-act, multi-character drama set in the titular city. We learn that The Homebody has left England for Taliban-governed Kabul (the play is set in 1998), where she has disappeared and is presumed dead. The rest of the play follows her daughter and husband as they try to deal with her disappearance and figure out whether or not she is still alive.
The second part of the play never quite gels the way that the first part does (which is rather a shame as it’s several times longer). That is not to say that the rest of the play is not engaging, interesting or entertaining—it most definitely is, just not in the sublime way of the opening monologue. Kris Holden-Ried does good work as Quango Twistleton; the British family’s guide in Afghanistan who also happens to be a junkie. Also strong is Sanjay Talwar as “professional uncle” Khwaja Aziz Mondanabosh, who is also co-director of the project. Unfortunately lacking is Lesley Faulkner’s performance as the Homebody’s daughter Priscilla Ceiling, on whom much of the play’s action rests. It is Priscilla who we follow through the streets of Kabul in a desperate search for her mother, and Faulkner, though not uncharismatic, doesn’t quite fit the character perfectly.
Quibbles aside, Homebody/Kabul is a fascinating work both for its prescience (though it premiered after 9/11, it was written before) and as an example of Kushner’s fantastic writing talent. It’s not quite Angels in America, but it’s still pretty darn good.
Photo by Virginia MacDonald.