THEATER REVIEW: Ancram play shrinks distance to Kabul

“Homebody/Kabul” / Ancram Opera House

PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER and actor Danielle Skraastad say it at least twice in his play, “Homebody/Kabul”: “I love the world!”

There is a spare yet generous look to the stage at Ancram Opera House. There are books and more books in piles tall and short. There is a cozy corner for the woman at home in London. (Her monologue is coming.) At the end of the play, there is an up-stage group of nicely lit, gray-sandy walls that summon up Kabul’s beauty and its dry, modern threat of non-life.

Watching Skraastad is like becoming an attentive therapist who listens to the outpourings of a patient’s teeming mind. The mind is not just neurotic; it is brilliant, funny, pathetic, informed, passionate, peripatetic, and, above all, world-loving.

In a flood of Kabul chronology and intense (often funny) personal revelations, the actor sends Kushner directly out into the house. No fourth wall. No elaborate anything except perhaps intelligence. Yes, elaborate, theatrical, world-loving, fearful intelligence.

Broadway actor Danielle Skraastad, a Greene County native, stars in Tony Kushner’s “Homebody/Kabul” at the Ancram Opera House this weekend. Photo by B. Docktor

Skraastad is dressed in a large blue wool cardigan and leaf-strewn, dowdy skirt. She is engrossed in an old travel book about Kabul and surrounded by books. She looks like an out-of-date caricature of a librarian/compulsive reader.

Director Jeffrey Mousseau leaves her seated stage left for more than 30 minutes. He knows what the actress will do with 30 minutes: She is in perpetual motion. The shoulders rise and fall; the head pops upward (thinking, connecting, thinking!); the hands, with 10 fingers wide, bob and spread and shape imaginary objects; the torso lengthens, leans; and above it all, there is a sweet face. Its sweetness gets suffused with child-like amazement at the story of Kabul. (Silk! Kabul grabbed the Chinese invention of silk and ran a Silk Road.) She is astonished at Central Asia and Kabul in particular, and her extraordinary need to tell us all about it is not to be denied.

In one shift from world to home, the character confesses to filching some of her husband’s anti-depressants—to try to see how he feels! Obviously one of the pills she filched was “speed.” Skraastad’s speed-speak sometimes overwhelms the Kushner words—and that should not happen. Audiences need all of them, even the chronological lists that zoom over centuries of Afghan history.

Finally she rises and moves center, where response to Kabul’s modern, bloody cruelty, desperation and anguish is unleashed.

Tony, Danielle, and Jeffrey’s audiences can probably still love the world—especially because they are wrapped warmly in the red-brown womb of Ancram Opera House (with its improbable crystal chandeliers). Still, it doesn’t seem right that audiences are both painfully awakened and coddled. We experience “Homebody,” and then we leave the womb and go home to a snack and a good bed…and we forget.

(The Ancram Opera House has added two talks about historian Nancy Hatch Dupree, the real life inspiration for Tony Kushner’s Homebody, on August 10 and 12. Dupree, a renowned Afghanistan expert, wrote a 1972 historical guidebook to Kabul that playwright Tony Kushner found in the library of New York University in 1997. The talks free of charge. Final performances of “Homebody” are Friday, August 10 and Saturday, August 11 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, August 12 at 4 p.m. For tickets and information: ancramoperahouse.org)

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