The title alone of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures is an indication that playwright Tony Kushner’s latest play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre covers a lot of ground. (Kushner recommends the nickname iHo, coined by his husband.) Its running time of nearly four hours might also be a tip-off.
Kushner has been tinkering with this play since its premiere at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, in 2009, and its 2011 New York Public Theater production on through this, its West Coast premiere at the Rep, and it’s easy to see why. Ideas swirl in a dizzying barrage, overlapping and colliding like the conversations of the family at the play’s center, whose habitual style is to talk loudly over one another at all times. None of them would ever consider pausing during a tirade just because three siblings are also delivering speeches at the moment. This cacophony renders much of what anyone has to say incomprehensible, but don’t worry, they’ll say more. Much more.
It’s almost a shame that Nina Raine’s Tribes has just closed on the Rep’s Thrust Stage, because having two hyper-intellectual families hollering at each other in both of the company’s theaters at the same time would have been fascinating. In The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide, Gus Marcantonio, a 72-year-old retired longshoreman and labor leader, has decided to commit suicide, claiming to have Alzheimer’s and to be just plain tired of life. His large and dysfunctional Italian-American Communist family has assembled to try to talk him out of it, or maybe just to wear him down through constant argument. Of course, all that squabbling seems just as likely to reinvigorate him, because as played by Breaking Bad’s Mark Margolis with world-weary stubbornness, Gus seems like the kind of guy who thrives on conflict.
His three kids are a labor historian, an ex-doctor turned labor lawyer, and a building contractor. Two of them have same-sex partners, both of whom are theologians, and almost everybody in the family has been screwing around on the side.
Eldest son Pill (a quietly conflicted Lou Liberatore) is carrying on a high-maintenance love affair with Eli, a young hustler who gets turned on by talking about Marxism. Pill’s been spending all his sister’s money paying for sex, although neither he nor his lover is sure how much of their relationship really is just a transaction and how much is role-playing hustler and john for the excitement of it. As played by Jordan Geiger, Eli comes off as too much of a needy and callow twerp to sustain a subplot about whether Pill can bear to give him up.