Homebody’ is powerful, thought-provoking

Andrew Maurer
November 6, 2005
Filed under Archives

UT’s Department of Theatre and Film’s production of Tony Kushner’s “Homebody/Kabul” is both extremely familiar and breathtakingly new.

Most of us can relate to the experiences of at least some of Kushner’s characters, and the play explores a global context that sheds new light on such experiences.

The first hour is a complex monologue in which the manic-depressive Homebody (Sue Ott Rowlands), captivated by a tattered, outdated travel guide, draws parallels between her own search for happiness and the history of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

The audience learns that Kabul’s history is one of constant transition, changing hands through violence from antiquity to the present, when the Taliban seizes power in 1996.

Political, religious and cultural forces have played against one another, turning the city into a fragmented non-place, without a definite identity.

These qualities make the city the perfect object of the Homebody’s escapist fantasies, and so the monologue ends with Homebody impulsively traveling to Afghanistan.

The play then switches gears to follow the story of the Homebody’s husband and daughter, who have gone to Kabul to search for her.

In a decrepit, dimly-lit hotel room, a doctor (Bowling Green State University professor Tony Horne), more concerned about his pronunciation of English than his listeners’ emotions, describes to Homebody’s husband Milton (UT philosophy professor Ben Pryor) and daughter Priscilla (Elif Erturk) the mutilations that occurred when the Homebody was beaten to death.

We learn, however, that the body has been “lost,” making dubious the doctor’s claims, and the Homebody’s mysterious fate underlies the rest of the play.

Convinced his wife is dead, Milton gives up hope and stays in the hotel room, experimenting with heroin and sharing his daughter’s secrets with junkie/British ambassador Quango Twistleton (Marty Coleman).

Priscilla, on the other hand, embarks on a desperate search through the streets of Kabul, encountering an Esperanto-speaking Kabuli tour guide who suggests the Homebody is alive and has married a Muslim man.

By way of this encounter, Priscilla is drawn into a drama that gives her insight into both the plight of Kabul’s residents and her relationship with her mother.

Erturk does a very good job of playing a rebellious girl who gradually realizes that hers is not the only way to live life.

Throughout all of this, cultural and interpersonal relationships overlap, conflict and undulate.

Everyone wants to escape in some way, to travel physically or mentally to somewhere percieved to be both familiar and foreign, both defining and re-defining.

These perceptions of that place where “the grass is greener” are butted against one another and modern reality.

Critic’s Conclusion: “Homebody/Kabul” is immensely entertaining, and the important, maybe even necessary, questions it raises will resonate long after you leave the theater.

Four-and-a-half stars out of five.

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