Homebody/Kabul in Seattle

“We shudder to recall the times through which we have lived, the Recent Past, about which no one wants to think.” Tony Kushner – Homebody/Kabul

Tony Kushner’s 2001 play, Homebody/Kabul, is remarkable in many ways. It’s about Afghanistan but was written before 9/11. It’s a monologue delivered by a spinsterish woman, the Homebody, in her London flat (but could be anywhere) who is captivated by an out of date guidebook about Kabul. The Kushner line, about the Recent Past, was startlingly prescient given that he started writing the play in 1996, even before the US air strikes on Al Qaeda training camps. And though the play was first performed in December of 2001 after the Twin Towers attack, the playwright didn’t feel it was necessary to modify the text in order to make it more timely.

I saw it last weekend and was astonished as much by the production as by the writing. Like I do every week, I was digging for something interesting to see or do when I read a review in the Seattle Times. I hadn’t heard of this particular play but I thought it sounded interesting. I’ve been a Kushner fan since I saw his 1993 Pulitzer-winning Angels in America, Part One: The Millennium Approaches, but Homebody/Kabul promised a different dose of the provocative and political. The current Seattle production was only performed on Friday and Saturday nights and had a limited run. I tried several times to buy tickets but it was always sold out. I finally got tickets for Friday’s performance and was quick to discover the reason it was always sold out. The venue seats 18. This is a picture of the stage and the seating arrangement.

HomebodySurprise can be an important element in an art experience and add significantly to its impact. Think Michelangelo or Jackson Pollock, Rodin or Christo, Dostoevsky or Kafka, Shakespeare or Sophocles. This play is full of surprises – from the size and simplicity of the venue, to the sensational performance by Mary Ewald, to the clever history lesson read to the audience from an out of date guidebook with the audience sitting just a few feet from her “stage.”

This small Seattle production crystalized the elements I have come to think of as part of a true art experience – an original concept, a universal theme, quality material, and near perfect execution. The scale and intimacy at the New City Theater helped bring these elements into focus. It would have been wholly different in a New York theater. In a tiny theater like New City’s you can actually hear the audience breathing and the actress turning a page in the old guidebook. It becomes a sense experience as well as an intellectual one.

homebody Mary EwaldI can’t claim any expertise as a theater critic, but Homebody/Kabul reminded me of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead one of the first contemporary plays I was lucky enough to see. The dialogue (or monologue) is packed with clever language and a cadence that is almost a character by itself. My ear and my brain were in a near constant state of surprise.

I would happily go back to this production, but to take up one of the 36 seats on its last two nights would be denying someone else a great theater experience. Instead, I’m going to see Rapture, Blister, Burn, ACT Theater’s production of the Gina Gionfriddo comedy, about the evolution and fallout of the feminist movement. I’ve had enough of Afghanistan for a while, although Khalid Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed is sitting near the top of the stack of my must read books. I heard him read from it recently and it sounds like a worthy follow up to A Thousand Splendid Suns.

So many books (and plays), so little time.


  1. After reading your words about Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul, can’t wait to get the book. Great post.

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