HOMEBODY/KABUL by Tony Kushner, directed by John Michaelson (Mercury). At Berkeley Theatre (26 Berkeley). To June 9. $17.50. 416-368-3110, www.homebodykabul.ca. See Continuing, page 183. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Anyone who's seen Tony Kushner's masterpiece Angels In America knows he's not afraid of big social epics. In Homebody/Kabul, which premiered in December 2001, Kushner takes his gift for fusing political and human drama to the war-torn city of Kabul, which of course resonates as much today as it did a few months after 9/11.
Set in 1998, the uneven double bill begins with the unnamed Homebody ( Fiona Reid ), an avid reader, juxtaposing a brief history lesson about Kabul from a dusty old guide book with the story of her recent encounter with a London clerk of Afghan background.
Reid delivers this hour-long monologue - full of historical footnotes, verbal gymnastics and hints about her character's mental state and domestic situation - with such charm, humanity and bravura technique that it alone is worth the price of the ticket.
At the start of the second play, Kabul, we learn that the woman has travelled to Kabul and disappeared. Her husband, Milton ( Michael Spencer-Davis ), and daughter, Priscilla ( Lesley Faulkner ), have shown up to look for her, Milton with the help of an expat named Quango ( Kris Holden-Reid ), Priscilla via an Esperanto-speaking poet and guide named Khwaja ( Sanjay Talwar) .
Soon Priscilla meets a well-read Afghan woman named Mahala ( Deena Aziz ), who claims her husband has married Priscilla's mother and that she, Mahala, wants to travel back to London. True or false?
Though the mystery of Reid's Homebody hovers over the second play, the work collapses into a series of rants, and none of the characters ever come into focus. Milton, Priscilla and Quango seem like types, and the performers aren't able to do much besides speak their lines and move from point A to point B on Andrea Mittler's serviceable set.
There are charged scenes, such as one in which a soldier breaks down over his love of Frank Sinatra, and another in which Mahala says, forbodingly, "Don't worry - the Taliban is coming to New York."
But in contrast to that brilliant first act, the material here feels like a draft, and director John Michaelson doesn't find a way to make it resonate, either with what came before or with the current situation in Afghanistan.