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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Public


  Michael Cristofer and Linda Emond/ Ph: Joan Marcus

The Public now allows the public to bring food and drink into its auditoriums during its performances, and while I’m against this on principle I couldn’t argue with the folks bringing in coffee during the two intermissions of Tony Kushner’s latest, a great big slab of play running three hours and 45 minutes. Some were doing it to keep up with the playwright’s over-caffeinated characters, whose dialogue frequently overlaps, as in a Robert Altman film, and others were bellying up to the barista simply to stay awake.
The sleepers should be grateful for the crosstalk. With every line given equal weight, the show might have run as long as a prior Public tenant, Gatz. I should add that by dozing you won’t miss too much; not every line, or every scene or situation, counts for something in The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide, as it did in Kushner's masterful Angels in America. Rewarding in parts, the show is lumpy and disappointing in others, and made me wish that Kushner and director Michael Greif had kept it down to one cup.
A bit of Arthur Miller here, a dash of Clifford Odets there, with a dollop of Shaw and an August: Osage County seasoning for spice – what Kushner has assembled is a play about unions. The show is set in the fraying Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn brownstone that has been in the family of Gus Marcantonio for generations. A retired longshoreman, Gus (Michael Cristofer) is himself crumbling, perhaps from Alzheimer’s, which led to a recent suicide attempt, and has caused him to gather his three grown children – Pill (Stephen Spinella), Empty (Linda Emond) and V (Steven Pasquale) – together to talk him out of ending his life. The show is strongest when the four are chatting, squabbling, and reconciling in the living room – a fine Mark Wendland set redolent of the family’s American Communist past and union pride.
Pill, who had left New York for Minneapolis to break off his habitual (and bankrupting) trysts with Yale-educated hustler Eli (Michael Esper), returns with his exasperated long-time partner Paul (K. Todd Freeman) to make some sort of amends with his father. Empty, a lesbian whose partner Maeve (Danielle Skraastad) is expecting a child, can’t resist fooling around with her ex-husband, Adam (Matt Servitto), whose primary interest is the valuable brownstone. And V, who supplied the sperm for Maeve’s insemination, is just sort of angry, but can’t get a word in edgewise with his motor-mouthed spouse, Sooze (Hettienne Park). On the periphery, dispensing deadpan zingers, is Clio (Brenda Wehle), Gus’ sister, an ex-nun. The year is 2007, just before the entire country joined in the family’s collective nervous breakdown.
The problem is that Kushner is so invested in Gus and his existential collapse, little else registers when the show leaves him for sidebar vignettes. Playing a life in full, Christofer gives a towering if somewhat monotonous performance. With less to go on besides colorful quirks and unlikely complications, the rest are blanks, constructs (those names!) in search of flesh and blood. “This play is so homophobic!” sputtered a woman near me as the second act drew to a close, something that the playwright – already accused of being anti-Israel by the board of the City University of New York (which voted to reject an honorary degree for him) –  really needs to hear at this point. I disagree, but I can see why she felt that way. Gus may be a problem parent, but the gay characters’ attempts to create families of their own in changing and uncertain times come off as as unintelligent, if not outright ludicrous, victims of underdevelopment in this long but narrow show. Guide leads you in several directions without ever finding a satisfactory destination.

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