Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis on Thursday elaborated its title in a realist mode for three and a half hours. It is Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman if half the family were gay. Yet it is more complex than Miller's play because its characters have compounded adjustment disorders. Kushner's saga of a fourth-generation Italian family in Brooklyn is a celebration not merely of family or of diversity (something it also is) but of reality. In reality, people have histories and complex layerings; in a family such as the Marcantonios, lives are as complex as veins of leaves that cling to the same small branch.
A synopsis for this story might read: "Gay man's father wishes to commit suicide." That covers about one-eighth of the drama with none of the detail. "Gay white male scholar married to a black male atheist theologian after moving to Minneapolis to evade a love-affair with a white male prostitute in Manhattan is called home to Brooklyn to attend to his Italian-American communist father's (Augusto's) decision to attempt suicide for a second time in a year to commemorate his wife's death at giving birth to his youngest son." That covers about one-third of the story.
The adult children in the story are: Pill (Pier Luigi, the gay man who has moved to Minneapolis), Empty (Maria Theresa, a labor lawyer), and V (Vito). Empty's former husband, Adam, lives in the basement of the Marcantonio family's brownstone. During a family consensus hearing called by Gus's sister, Bennie (Benedicta, a lapsed nun), Empty slips downstairs for a comfort fuck with her ex-; by morning Empty's pregnant lover, Maeve, appears at the family meeting to inquire, in particular, about the "proceeds" if Gus should do himself in and Adam buys the house. Maeve is pregnant with Vito's seed. (It comes to light that he did not in fact artificially inseminate her.) Empty is to become the lesbian mother of her niece or nephew. Meanwhile, across town, Pill who cannot resist paying Eli for sex goes for a session at Eli's efficiency. That covers about two-thirds of the story.
I'm leaving out labor and communist party history. I'm leaving out Bennie's decision to leave Gus and return to the projects in Paterson. I'm leaving out the woman Gus met at an Irish bar whose husband committed suicide who can teach him exactly how to do it. I'm leaving out the suitcase pulled from the wall after Vito and his father take turns punching it. I'm leaving out Pill's impending divorce if he chooses to stay with the prostitute. I'm leaving out the dialogue, more complicated than any contemporary dialogue I've heard on stage, more complicated than Chekhov, as complicated as Austen, cusping on Shakespeare. I'm leaving out the family diaspora and Eli's visit to Gus. I'm leaving out the end.