A discontented middleclass housewife, an angst ridden overgrown-adolescent, a weak father, a drug addict and pseudo foreign attaché, a frustrated poet who writes in Esperanto or maybe a spy, a politician trying to allow communication between white middleclass and Taliban visions, a fundamentalist militia policeman, survivors of atrocities… Homebody/Kabul brings together a panorama of lost souls in a clash of cultures, situations and realities.
The play starts in London with the story of a woman trying to forge an identity for herself beyond her marriage riddled with boredom and the alienated relationship with her daughter. With the aid of outdated guides to Kabul, this no-man’s-land becomes her obsession. The city becomes a metaphor for impotency, the force of external power and searches for identity.
Kabul, a city historically subjected to -and destroyed by- the strategic actions of politicians, becomes the symbolic backdrop for the story which finds father and daughter searching for the mother, presumed dead, though the mystery is never unveiled. It is difficult not to feel slight embarrassment and the parallel drawn between the scars of such a devastated city –a political pawn in international conflicts- and the suburban crises of this middleclass family, battling through boredom, paternal misunderstandings, and to top it all a clichéd abortion story-line.
The opening monologue, thanks to Tony Kushner, is dense with impeccably tight and perfectly chosen words. It is a delight to get drawn along with the words, the imaginations and the realities portrayed. It describes the struggles of every-day modern life and the desire to find picaresque adventure, and meaning. Once the play moves to Kabul, the chaotic narrative bursts in, and the play looses itself. The text occasionally betrays the beauty of the first barrage of words, but only occasionally.
The text of the play is predominantly English, translated to Spanish, but original sections in Dari, Arabic, Pashtun, French and Esperanto are respected. The inclusion of multiple languages and dialects succeeds in enhancing the sense of displacement between different realities and is true to the variety of characters and lost souls brought together on the stage.
The scenery is well thought-out, functional, but lacks any great impact. The choice to move inside scenes of the hotel room to a not-quite-disappeared background whilst the foreground moves to a devastated Kabul, rather than highlight the parallel time of different spaces and conflicting truths, only helps to increase unwanted disjointedness.
Elena Anaya’s hysterical acting is abysmal, highly irritating and lacks all subtlety. If this is to be a role which determines her ability as an actress, then she ought to be banished back to the two-dimensionality of dismal blockbuster films. Vicky Peña sustains the opening monologue without causing any distraction to the words -which is a feat in itself-, but without adding any strength to it. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable without being memorable and they all seem to need to warm up as the play unfolds improving upon initial blunders. The most interesting performances are those by Jordi Collet (the lost, stoned, amoral NGO employee who works for the Foreign Office), Mehdi Ouazzani (the poet who tries to make the daughter, to whom he becomes guide and protector, listen to him recite his poems in Esperanto) and Gloria Munoz (the Afghan librarian desperate to be taken to London to escape her dead).
The play opens the audience’s eyes to the disquieting history of Kabul, powerless to do anything about the roles thrust upon it by international politics. A tactical pawn which, caught in many cross-fires, has stumbled to fight for survival amidst its scars and destruction. Politically, Kushner can hardly be accused of sitting-on-the-fence and his criticism of international policy which uses faraway territories as bloody playgrounds is potent.
The play leaves you feeling that it was unwantedly chaotic, thinking of the potential of the ideas and yet disappointed at the outcome. The most outstanding feature is inherent to the play: Kushner’s prowess as a writer and his control of language, especially in the texts in which he allows himself to be more purely literary.