Sam Shepard, asked why he writes so much about family, replied simply: ”What else is there?” (August: Osage County Tracy Letts likes to invoke that quote when discussing his classic f—ed-up-family drama.) ”Family,” playwright Richard Greenberg told me once, ”is the DNA of everything.” So it’s not at all surprising that Tony Kushner has finally gotten around to crafting his own gloriously dysfunctional domestic drama, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures.
Of course, you’d never guess that’s what lies beneath the unwieldy title — a nod to a George Bernard Shaw political primer and a Christian Science reader. But once you step inside the Marcantonios’ $4 million Brooklyn brownstone — rendered with extraordinary detail, down to the mismatched dining room chairs and stacks of well-thumbed, cloth-bound books, by Mark Wendland — it’s clear that iHo (let’s use the Kushner-sanctioned, new-media-friendly abbreviation) is more closely tied to the family-focused works of Miller, Chekhov, Albee, Williams, and O’Neill than to any of Kushner’s previous pieces.
No seraphs crash through the ceiling (à la Angels in America); straight Vito (Stephen Pasquale, a revelation) does, however, put a bust of Garibaldi through a wall in a moment of anger. And who can blame him? He and his siblings — lesbian Empty, symbolically short for Maria Teresa (Linda Emond), and gay Pill (Stephen Spinella), symbolically short for PierLuigi — have been summoned to ”vote,” to give their blessing to their suicidal 72-year-old father Gus (Michael Cristofer). There are no appearances by First Ladies, blustery Bolsheviks, executed espionage artists, or aged rabbis — only a pregnant lesbian Ph.D. (Danielle Skraastad), a gay theology professor (K. Todd Freeman), a former Carmelite nun/Maoist (Brenda Wehle), a hunky hustler (Michael Esper), and an amateur Dr. Kevorkian (Molly Price).
During the near four-hour running time, there is lots of talk about all the big -isms: communism, socialism, Marxism. (One expects, and demands, nothing less from America’s most hyperliterate, humorous playwright.) And because these people can’t talk to each other without talking over each other — like, hello, most Italian families — lines are layered on top of lines and on top of those lines. Fortunately, director Michael Greif (who staged last year’s sensational Angels revival) orchestrates it masterfully, and Kushner vets like Emond and Spinella (a double Tony winner for Angels) — plus Cristofer, who gives a virtuoso performance — spin what could be verbal chaos into an aural symphony.
Yes, iHo does lose steam in acts 3 and 4, when Gus is forced into individual confessionals/confrontations with each of his children. Though in Kushner’s defense, I defy any playwright to top the brilliantly tumultuous act 2 finale, which brings in just about every character — plus Vito’s Korean wife (Hettienne Park) and Empty’s drunk ex-husband (Matt Servitto) — and brings out cataclysmic secrets about infidelity, addiction, and real estate. Throw in a green-bean casserole and it’s August: Osage County. You’ve gotta love those dysfunctional family dramas. B+
(Tickets: PublicTheater.org or 212-967-7555)