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Beyond the valley of the Hindu-Kush

Perseverance Theatre's production explores the dual quality of human existence, 5,000 years of Afghan history

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

Director Terry Cramer and actress Gina Spartz planned to present the first half of Tony Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul" in a workshop this fall at Perseverance Theatre. But when new artistic director PJ Paparelli announced plans to resume the theater's series of smaller "second-stage" performances, they soon had a larger venue.

"Homebody," an hour-long, one-woman monologue, opens Thursday, Oct. 14, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 23, in the theater's Phoenix room. All performances start at 8 p.m. and are pay-as-you-can. It's Spartz' first attempt at a one-woman play, and Cramer's first crack at directing one.

"I'm not sure you can call this a story so much as getting to know this wacky and wonderful woman who cares deeply about things, who has wild, wonderful language and who's very funny, unintentionally," Cramer said. "The opportunity to unfold the character in this kind of circumstance is what appealed to me."

The Phoenix room, to the left of the theater's front doors, seats about 44. Arrive early for a seat.

The production has been put together with almost no budget. The stage consists of a few raised platforms borrowed from the main stage. The Homebody's living room includes a rug from Cramer's home, a chair from the Perseverance lobby and a coffee table made out of two small, black acting cubes that were lying around the theater.

"Homebody" was written before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the result of Kushner's two-decade obsession with Afghan-istan.

The play is set in 1998 in the homebody's living room, somewhere in the United Kingdom. She's talking about her interest in Afghanistan to friends who are never seen. She adds background to her soliloquy with short histories from a 33-year-old guidebook.

The tale begins around 3000 B.C., the Bronze Age, as tribes settled in the Hindu-Kush range and the area emerged as a crossroads through Asia. Centuries later, Indians wrriting the Rig Veda and mentioned the lush valleys of the range.

'Homebody'

Perseverance Theatre

When: Thursdays and Saturdays, Oct. 14-Oct. 23; all performances start at 8 p.m.

Where: Perseverance Theatre's Phoenix room

Tickets: Pay-as-you-can

In 328 B.C., Alexander the Great arrived with his conquerors. After his death, present-day Afghanistan passed through the rule of Huns, Turks, caliphates, Kushanas, Ghaz-nivads and Persians. Genghis Khan swept through in 1219 during the Mongol invasion.

The country liberated itself from the empire of the Great Mogul in 1747, then survived three Anglo-Afghan wars. The Kingdom of Afghanistan was proclaimed in 1926 but the country was soon swallowed by Civil War. Soviet invasion, the rise of the Taliban and U.S. occupation are just the latest chapters.

"Afghanistan is a place that has had great glory as well as great destruction," Cramer said. "There's a myth that Kabul was founded by Cain and is also the place where his grave is. So there's this dark side of human existence as well as this glorious, wonderful side of human existence.

"For me, the play is about how both of those qualities can live in a human," she said. "I imagine that 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, when Afghanistan has gone wherever it has, the question of what it means to be human will still be with us."

In "Kabul," the second act of the full play, the homebody does not appear. She has vanished somewhere in Afghanistan, and her husband and daughter are searching for her.

"There's something about the beginning of the world in Afghanistan, and I think there's something mystical that's calling her to go back there," Spartz said. "She has so many different issues and problems that she thinks if she goes there she'll be able to make a change in her life. It's pretty misguided, but I think it's beyond her."

Spartz has acted in a Kushner play before. She starred as valium-addicted, agoraphobia-plagued Harper, wife of main character Joe, in the Persever-ance production of Kushner's "Angels in America."

"Kushner writes very human characters," Spartz said. "They're very intellectual, but I think they're written in such a way that he gives a real human voice to very complex issues. He lets the characters talk about themselves and their own faults and their own desires, yet at the same time they're dealing with very large issues.

"He has a great facility for finding quirkiness and putting it in text," Spartz said. "You follow what (the homebody is) saying and you follow the flight of fantasy. The hard part is keeping up with the energy."

Spartz's husband has tired of her preoccupations and can't bear to talk to her. He feasts on anti-depressants, as does she. Meanwhile, her daughter, a young, sullen woman, blames her mother for her shortcomings.

Despite her obvious depression, the homebody maintains her curious spirit - her escape amid crushing reality.

"I like (the homebody) and that's the best thing about this," Spartz said. "I find that she's a person that, even though she seems quite strange, is really interested in what she's talking about. She knows so much about the subject that you could sit down and have lunch and an interesting conversation with her. She is quite funny."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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