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Laurie Reviews Homebody/Kabul at BAM
It is a little much to hope that a play concerning the complexities of Kabul would be brief. Even so, that was my hope as I sat through Tony Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul". Instead of writing a play, Mr. Kushner has written a sermon. And, as with all sermons that I have sat through, "Homebody/Kabul" would be better short.
"Homebody/Kabul" opens on the character of the Homebody, played brilliantly by Linda Emond. For forty-five minutes, the audience member is transfixed by the delicacy, raw power, and sheer endurance of Linda Emond as she delivers the opening monologue of the play. The entire life of the Homebody is examined in that monologue. As the Homebody dwells primarily inside her own head, the examination reveals a rich, multi-patterned inner life that is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. The Homebody invokes the dual sensation of mothering to and being mothered at the same time. The happiness of the Homebody becomes vital to her listeners. When she finishes her homily on life, she leaves. She never comes back anywhere in the play.
Maybe it is because of the force of the Homebody's performance, but neither the character of Milton Ceiling or of Pricilla Ceiling, (the Homebody's husband and daughter, respectively) seem complete. Reed Birney, (as Milton Ceiling), never strays farther than cliche of the emotionally distant British father. He receives the news of his wifeÕs brutal death and the news of his daughter's abortion with equal annoyance and his only recognizable signs of emotion are his snippy one-liners. When he has his moment of introspective thought, it is obvious and forced.
The character played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, (Pricilla Ceiling) is more confusing. It is hard to discern whether the lack of a balance in the character is due to the re-writing that the part went under or whether it is due to the actress portraying the part. With a permanent slouch and a voice that does not always carry, Ms. Gyllenhaal does not help dispel the feeling that an overgrown teenager has taken control of the stage. Still, the lines that have been given to her do not ever seem to reflect the turmoil of a girl stuck in a foreign, hostile world who is trying to find her mother.
Other than Linda Emond, the shining entertainment of "Homebody/Kabul" is in Bill Camp, who plays Quango Twistleton, a British embassy officer assigned to help the Ceilings in Kabul. In spite of his rabid drug habit, his attempts to seduce Pricilla at exactly the wrong times, and with his piteous attitude, Quango Twistleton is still a sympathetic, abet comical, character. The audience can find a redeemable quality in his love for Kabul that does not depend on reciprocation. It also does not hurt that Bill Camp recalls a young Tim Curry.
Much is made of the fact that "Homebody/Kabul" was originally written before the September 11 attacks. Though it does seem to be an uncanny coincidence, the timing of the play does not make it any better written. That is a pity, because there are some transcendent moments in "Homebody/Kabul" that are obviously underserved by the lack of constant performances.