Tall Tales: “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide,” Etc., A Review

Tall Tales: “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide,” Etc., A Review

Tony Kushner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with Key to the Scriptures” is now up at Denver’s Curious Theatre Company through April 15. Our Denver theater critic, award-winning author Mark Stevens, reviews the production. Tickets here.

Lawrence Hecht (left) as Gus Marcantonio, Anne Oberbroeckling as Clio, and Matthew Schneck as Adam. Courtesy, Curious Theatre.

“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with Key to the Scriptures,” like its title, is unwieldy.

It’s sprawling, ambitious, messy, and at times flat-out chaotic.

It’s a giant bear of a play, paws swiping everywhere for topics and issues. At The Curious Theatre Company production, the lights go down shortly after 6:30 p.m. and you walk out the door four hours later, including two intermissions that you likely spend wondering where the heck this is all going and how it’s going to get there.

I can report that more than a few folks did not make it through Tony Kushner’s epic journey on the night I attended. The four hours requires stamina. But in its own way, ‘Guide,’ or ‘iHo’ as they call it at The Curious, is utterly riveting.

Easily summed up?


Easily discussed?

It’s even hard to find a spot to begin to chew things over.

Before I even try to capsulize the story or point out a few themes, it’s worth getting to the acting and production right off the top.

It’s stellar.

Given the challenging material, the rich layers of ideas, the Curious Theatre Company pulls off a major feat. Given the rapid-fire dialogue, and many scenes where voices are firing and the verbal bullets are flying all at the same time, this troupe’s collective performance is top notch.

Four hours?


Is it necessary?

Yes, yes, and maybe.

The four hours fairly flew. The intermissions are well-placed. And, hey, a baseball game takes four hours these days so why not invest four hours in a play that drops references to everyone from Karl Marx to Mary Baker Eddy, from George Bernard Shaw to Dionysus in a big complex (but not easy to follow) family drama?

So ‘iHo’ is about the patriarch of a big, old Italian family named Gus Marcantonio in New York who wants to kill himself.

That’s it.

That’s all there is to it.

Over and out.

Yeah, right.

Gus has all sorts of offspring and, I know you’ll be shocked, they all have strong opinions about their father’s plans and also about how we got to this particular point in time. And it turns out the offspring also have husbands, ex-husbands, wives, ex-wives, and various three-way complications going on.

Daughter Maria Teresa or “M.T.”  – or “Empty” – is now in a committed lesbian relationship with Maeve Ludens and the pair are having a baby thanks to the sperm donation from Maria’s brother Vito (or Vin, Vic, Vinnie or just plain V) Marcantonio. Oh, and Empty’s ex lives in a basement apartment:What could possibly go wrong?

There’s son Pill Marcantonio (Pier Luigi = P.L. = Pill) and he’s not only married to husband Paul but keenly interested in a more in-depth relationship with a rent boy Eli, who he has been seeing on the side for years and years behind Paul’s back.

That’s not quite everyone.

There’s Gus’ sister Clio and V’s wife Sooze Moon and, at the end of the night, friend Michelle O’Neill with her bag of pills and Suicide 101 hands-on training. (No, not giving anything away.)

The play takes place in the Brooklyn Brownstone house, rendered in exquisite detail by scenic designer Markas Henry and many more. That house is a symbol of the liberal family’s legacy and, ironically enough, may now be ready to generate a windfall for each of the offspring should Gus no longer be on the scene.

In the foreground is Lawrence Hecht as Gus. Courtesy, Curious Theatre Company.

The announcement of Gus’ intentions sparks several furious round-robins where feelings get hurt, secrets get revealed, and philosophical and theological theories fly.

There is anger—plenty of it. Recriminations, old grudges, sibling and marital rivalry, on and on. This bunch is well-read. There is the potential inheritance to discuss and the walls, quite literally, hold secrets. Much shouting will be heard.

Watching the jabs and counter-jabs fly makes it hard, at times, to keep track of who is saying what—and that’s fine. The point is not in the detail. I was concentrating on one verbal dust-up when one part of the audience burst out in laughter, the result of some zippy crack I missed because it was generated by a competing shouting match from the other side of the stage. Who doesn’t drop the F-bomb? Why nobody, by my reckoning, and that includes the normally calm center-of-the-story Clio, played with cool and poise by Anne Oberbroeckling. Clio, a onetime Maoist and cult follower, has some killer lines. Yes, there’s humor, too.

The center of ‘iHo’ is Gus and Lawrence Hecht brings the weight and personal burdens to bear in slow-burn fashion. It’s not hard to believe he was a longtime longshoreman, union activist, or that he stays up late at night translating Horace. Matthew Schneck is terrific as Pill and it’s great to see longtime Curious regulars Dee Covington (Empty) and Karen Slack (Maeve) on stage together. The entire cast, directed by Chip Walton, deserves considerable credit for managing the sheer heft, length and depth of the material. Their onstage timing is exquisite.

Kushner’s play is jam-packed with ideas. Listing them would be an effort. The big ideas about Communism and Capitalism and many other ‘isms’ are played against the interpersonal transgressions, slights and disparagements from a tight-knit family on the brink of implosion. There is something in here about the end of unions and collective action.

I’m still not sure what the play’s title means, but ‘iHo’ is a stirring ride. Grab a coffee first, kick back, and let this monster play eat you up.

More about Mark Stevens:

Mark Stevens, courtesy Cyrus McCrimmon

Mark Stevens, courtesy Cyrus McCrimmon

Telluride Inside… and Out’s monthly (more or less) column, Tall Tales, is so named because contributor Mark Stevens is one long drink of water. He is also long on talent.

Mark Stevens was raised in Massachusetts, but he’s been a Coloradoan since 1980.

Mark has worked as a print reporter, ((Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, Rocky Mountain News), national news television producer, (MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour) and school district communicator. He’s now laboring in the new economy, listed under “s” for self-employed public relations exec.

Mark has published four Colorado-based mysteries, “Antler Dust”(2007), “Buried by the Roan” (2011), “Trapline” (2014) and “Lake of Fire” (2015).  “Trapline” won the Colorado Book Award.  The fifth book, “The Melancholy Howl,” is due out in late 2018.

For more about Mark, check out his website.

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