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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the February 6,

2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Homebody/Kabul’

Since September 11, most Americans have become

understandably

intrigued, if not obsessed, with the distant nation of Afghanistan,

its history, religion, and politics. For obvious reasons, there is

a need to understand, indeed confront, the fiercely anti-American

agenda of the Taliban and those forces that conspire to remove all

Western influence and its by-product, global capitalism.

American playwright Tony Kushner has written a lengthy (almost

four-hour)

play, "Homebody/Kabul," that attempts to offer, not only a

sprawling overview of Afghanistan, its people, those enslaved and

those inspired by an aggressive right-wing policy, but also a sad

and intimate look at a dysfunctional British family caught up in its

fate.

The author of the prize-winning "Angels in America" and a

promising voice in the social and political arena of such esteemed

dramatists as Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, and August Wilson, has

unveiled a work that has saga written all over it. It is a rambling,

seductive play. But most importantly, a significant play, although

one badly in need of some judicious pruning. Despite the intensely

empathetic direction of Declan Donnellan, the play is grievously

over-written.

The first of the play’s three acts, however, is exciting and bracing.

It consists of an hour-long monologue by an eccentric, middle-aged

British woman who sits comfortably in her London home. Enamoured of

Afghanistan, its ever-changing feudal past, its present enigmas and

contradictions, she takes delight, as would an avid morphologist,

telling us all about herself, amusingly empowering the most florid

and descriptive language.

Brilliantly acted by Linda Emond, "The Homebody" reads to

us extensively from an outdated ("by 33 years") guidebook

to the city of Kabul. It is both seductive and dry, a text made worthy

only by its reader’s ardor. We are as seduced as the charming reader

as she digresses with fits and starts into personal experiences, each

elaborated upon with great relish.

The woman’s revelations about her unhappy relationship with her

husband

("My husband cannot bear…the sound of me and has threatened

to leave on this account, and so I rarely speak to him any more")

and her emotionally distant grown daughter.

About her daughter she says (in a way summing up the

Kushner’s theme): "And now my daughter. Come home as one does.

She must have and may not budge, and I understand, I am her mother,

she is…starving. I…withhold my touch. The touch which does not

understand is the touch which corrupts, the touch which does not

understand

that which it touches is the touch which corrupts that which it

touches,

and which corrupts itself."

She talks about the wonder of this faraway land and the joy of walking

and shopping in Kabul. It is her purchase of a number of beautifully

made men’s hats, and her unexpectedly ecstatic sexual encounter with

the shopkeeper with a mutilated hand that provides a clue that this

prologue is possibly the epilogue of a very complex mosaic. There

is every reason to be dazzled by the intellectual and emotional paths

this actress takes as she brings to light Kushner’s vision of how

the corrupting forces that destroy us on the personal level do so

also at the global level.

Why or how this "Homebody," who acknowledges her dependence

on anti-depressants in order to survive her empty relationships, may

or may not have survived in Kabul is explored in the play’s subsequent

two acts.

These are set in Kabul, in August 1998, soon after an American bombing

raid on suspected terrorist camps. The inscrutable husband Milton

Ceiling (played by Dylan Baker, a master of dysfunctional behavior)

and daughter Priscilla (an appropriately needy and nasty Kelly

Hutchinson)

are in a Kabul hotel room listening to a doctor and a Taliban official

provide the grisly details surrounding the death of the English woman.

It seems a group of locals were offended by what they considered to

be her unacceptable behavior.

While Milton is willing to accept the fact that his wife’s dismembered

body cannot be found, Priscilla is suspicious that there may be

another

reason. As Milton chooses to stay in his room shooting up heroin with

an equally demoralized British liaison officer (excellently played

by Bill Camp), Priscilla takes to the streets to seek answers to her

mother’s disappearance. Shrouded in a burqa, she is aided in her

search

by a Tajik poet (played with a suspiciously wry manner by Yusuf Bulof)

whose offer comes in exchange for an agreement that Priscilla will

agree to carry his poems back to England.

After several encounters with various Tajik and Pashtun Afghans, each

with grim stories of the ruling Taliban, she is given reason to

believe

that her mother is not dead, but has defected to become the wife of

an Afghan. In a hard to swallow twist, Priscilla is told that her

mother wants her husband and daughter to help get the Afghan’s first

wife, a feminist (a histrionic Rita Wolf), out of the country.

"Homebody/Kabul" appears to fracture and dissolve, not from

its rueful purpose to observe and pursue the course of personal

suffering

in different cultures, but when that suffering seems less a conduit

to greater understanding than a crutch for melodramatic effect. Would

that Kushner’s intriguing yet unfulfilled work had illuminated more

and considered less.

For this effect we have the work of lighting designer Brian MacDevitt,

who reveals the shattered lives as well as the shattered walls of

set designer Nick Ormerod with greater thrift and precision.

Nevertheless,

"Homebody/Kabul" is vital dramatic literature and it fills

a need in the increasingly rare world of political theater. Two stars.

Maybe you should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

Homebody/Kabul, New York Theater Workshop, 79 East Fourth

Street, New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. Through

February 10.

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Volunteer Call

Rome Festival Orchestra, Ltd., an American charity

recognized

by the IRS, seeks volunteers to help with the Rome Festival in Rome,

Italy, during summer. The Rome Festival presents fully staged operas

and classical ballet, symphony concerts, chamber music concerts, and

theater. Volunteers are needed from all performing arts areas,

including

choral singers, set designers, artists, and others. Information at

www.geocities.com/romefestival.

To inquire about specific positions e-mail romefestival@yahoo.com

or call 800-811-3841 before noon. Specify area of interest and career

status or age. Volunteers who serve in Rome for two or more weeks

and their expenses may qualify as a charitable contribution.

Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Middlesex County

seeks tutors to help children to read. Training and instruction

materials

for volunteers is provided. Call Milli Groves, 732-249-6330.

Princeton Hospice, a unit of the Medical Center at

Princeton,

needs volunteers to visit hospice patients in their homes. An

eight-week

volunteer training course begins Tuesday, March 12. Call Liz Cohen

at 609-497-4900.

American Cancer Society seeks volunteer drivers for its

Road to Recovery program to transport cancer patients. Call

800-ACS-2345.

Participate Please

Mercer County Bar Foundation has funds available to

eligible

organization for the support, development, and implementation of

programs

to promote conflict resolution or reduce violence by children. The

maximum grant award is $500. Deadline for submissions is Friday,

February

15. Contact Bill Coleman at 609-637-4908.

Arts Council of Princeton seeks staff for spring break

and summer arts camp. Weekly positions are available for either

morning,

afternoon, or full-day sessions. Interested applicants, especially

those with experience in drawing, painting, clay, and ceramics, should

submit resume to Maria Evans, Arts Council of Princeton, 102

Witherspoon

Street, Princeton 08542 or fax to 609-921-0008.

Camp Olden Civil War Round Table and Museum offers a

one-time

award of $500 to each of two graduating high school seniors active

in a Civil War related organization. For application and information:

www.campolden.org.

Summer Programs

Dance Conservatory and Ballet Theater of Bucks County

announce Ballet Workshop 2002 for ages 8 to 18. Classes in ballet

technique, pointe, pas de deux, and variations from Monday, June 17

through Saturday, July 13. Housing is available. Call 215-946-0100.

New York Film Academy at Princeton University campus

offers

a four-week acting workshop, Monday, June 24, to Sunday, July 21,

$2,500; and four-week filmmaking workshops, Monday, June 24, to

Sunday,

July 21, or Monday, July 15 to Sunday, August 11, $3,775. Call

212-674-4300

or Website: www.nyfa.com

Westminster Choir College offers summer programs for high

school and middle school musicians. Vocal, music theater, piano,

composition,

flute, and organ camps and workshops . $675 to $950 including room

and board. Register. Call 609-924-7416 ext. 227.

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Donations

West Windsor Library, 333 North Post Road, is accepting

donations of books, CDs, audio books, video tapes, software, and small

arts items for its annual book sale, set for Wednesday through Sunday,

March 19 to 24. Tax receipt available. Call 609-799-0462.


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