No other contemporary playwright can integrate politics, sexuality, class, religion, history, and family dynamics so seamlessly. Even at three hours and 45 minutes (with two intermissions), the wide-ranging themes of this sprawling script surge with vitality.
Brilliantly cast and sympathetically directed by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, the play recalls some of the heady discourse that established Kushner with “Angels in America.” Yet, where that play zigzagged across the country, with stops in the Antarctica and heaven, this script never strays far from the Brooklyn brownstone of family patriarch Gus Marcantonio (the magnetic Mark Margolis, Emmy-nominated for his role as Tio in “Breaking Bad.”)
A former longshoreman, labor organizer and lifelong Communist Party member, Gus remains committed to his political ideals – even as the rush of history has largely swept them aside. Now 72, he’s discouraged, and he’s announced his decision to commit suicide.
That announcement shocks Gus’s children – Pill (Lou Liberatore), a teacher whose attraction to a young hustler (Jordan Geiger) threatens his marriage to Paul (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson); Vito (Joseph J. Parks), a contractor whose indifference to politics is a rebuke to Gus; and Empty (the excellent Deirdre Lovejoy), a labor lawyer who has joined her father at every party meeting and picket line. Only Gus’ sister, Clio (Randy Danson), seems to accept his need to end the struggle once and for all.
Joining the contentious discussions are Empty’s ex-husband Adam (Anthony Fusco) and her very pregnant partner Maeve (Liz Wisan). Vito’s wife (Tina Chilip) and the widow of one of Gus’ comrades (Robynn Rodriguez) arrive late in the day.
The performances are fierce and focused, and with references to Shaw, Marx, Chekhov, Mary Baker Eddy, the American labor movement and the Epistles of Horace, “Guide” is often hilarious. But it’s hard to mistake the despair at the heart of the play. Memory surfaces as a central theme – Gus claims that early Alzheimer’s is behind his death wish – and Kushner seems to suggest that our collective political amnesia is killing us, too.
Still, there’s enormous pleasure in watching these characters go at it. By the end, the house is still standing. But, once again, Kushner has covered a lot of ground.
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures
Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley
When: Daily, except no shows Mondays; closes June 29
Tickets: $29 to $99
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org