Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the February 6,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Since September 11, most Americans have become
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
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
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
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us extensively from an outdated ("by 33 years") guidebook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
("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
that which it touches is the touch which corrupts that which it
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
"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
Street, New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. Through
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,
choral singers, set designers, artists, and others. Information at
To inquire about specific positions e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
seeks tutors to help children to read. Training and instruction
for volunteers is provided. Call Milli Groves, 732-249-6330.
needs volunteers to visit hospice patients in their homes. An
volunteer training course begins Tuesday, March 12. Call Liz Cohen
Road to Recovery program to transport cancer patients. Call
organization for the support, development, and implementation of
to promote conflict resolution or reduce violence by children. The
maximum grant award is $500. Deadline for submissions is Friday,
15. Contact Bill Coleman at 609-637-4908.
and summer arts camp. Weekly positions are available for either
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
Street, Princeton 08542 or fax to 609-921-0008.
award of $500 to each of two graduating high school seniors active
in a Civil War related organization. For application and information:
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.
a four-week acting workshop, Monday, June 24, to Sunday, July 21,
$2,500; and four-week filmmaking workshops, Monday, June 24, to
July 21, or Monday, July 15 to Sunday, August 11, $3,775. Call
or Website: www.nyfa.com
school and middle school musicians. Vocal, music theater, piano,
flute, and organ camps and workshops . $675 to $950 including room
and board. Register. Call 609-924-7416 ext. 227.
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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