I sometimes wonder whether Tony Kushner’s greatest talent isn’t for marketing. A play with very legitimate concerns about the roles of gays and Jews in American life, called Gays in America or Jews in America, wouldn’t sell half as well as Angels in America, even if the author doesn’t believe in angels. With Kabul in its title, a play in 2001 was similarly surefire; I am only surprised that this proclaimedly seventeenth rewrite did not become Homebody/Baghdad.
The revised Homebody/Kabul, which runs four hours, begins, like the unrevised one, with a nearly hour-long soliloquy for the Homebody. The Homebody manages, in August 1998, to get to Kabul on her own, there to be either massacred and chopped to bits, as announced in the media, or, as various characters report, converted to Islam and married to an Afghan. Now husband Milton and daughter Priscilla are in Kabul looking for her, or her body. I cannot begin to convey the political and religious conflict, ancient and modern history, Graham Greene–style mystery, Esperanto poetry, seeking out of the supposititious grave of the biblical Cain, and Priscilla’s backstory involving abortion and attempted suicide that crowd into this complicated tale.
It does exhibit sedulous authorial research and reveling in recondite lore—some of it in various untranslated Afghan languages, though these passages are hardly more annoying than those in English. In truth, the characters really speak one or another dialect of Kushnerese, and are alter egos mouthing Kushner’s views, which, despite some pungent moments, do not add up to a decipherably purposeful whole.
The gifted Maggie Gyllenhaal manages to make the obnoxious Priscilla almost likable in a performance that has a few low and many high points, and there is also fine work from Linda Emond (Homebody), Reed Birney (Milton), Firdous Bamji, and Bill Camp. Frank Galati has directed effectively, and James Schuette’s sets, Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes, and especially Christopher Akerlind’s lighting contribute steadfastly. Now if only the play weren’t so much Kabulshit.