I’m pretty much convinced that life is a series of boxes. Boxes that we’ve made ourselves out of cardboard clichés and fantasy cement. We sit in one box – that we’ve furnished, perhaps, in the orientalist style, or done sparse and modern with white walls, plastic furniture and a hormone-boosted plant from Ikea that will never die. And from this ‘home box’ we look into another box, that, again, we’ve propped up ourselves, but in this one’s interior we’ve plastered up a magnificent montage of random ‘found objects‘, ripped from the telly and internet, picked up through overheard chatter on the beach, in bars and at bus-stops, from ad slogans, book pics and baffling apps, from fridge magnets, album covers, other people’s chest tattoos.
And into this slightly disturbing scene, slides Tony Kushner’s epic drama Homebody / Kabul (2001), 4 hours in its entirety! The first bit of which is a monologue performed by award-winning Catalan actress Vicky Peña. A casa (Kabul), directed by Mario Gas, is currently on at Barcelona’s Espai Lliure until the 20th of April.
Set in London in 1998, Peña plays the ‘Homebody’, a flirtatious, middle-aged woman with a love of long, complicated words that baffled my Kindle in English and sent my Catalan to the doghouse. A lonely depressive, estranged from her husband and daughter (her, not me!), the Homebody looks out from the safety of her living room into another ‘box’ that she’s wallpapered with her own invented narratives. Inspired by selective readings from an old guidebook about Kabul, published in 1965; this impractical evocative guide to the city provides about as much useful information as one of those excruciating archaeological exhibitions that recreates history as a series of violent conquests, one grandly-named civilisation quashing another only to be quashed in turn by a yet more well-equipped successor.
Wound into all this is the Homebody’s energetic ’empathetic’ engagement in contemporary events, that of the then-recent US bombings of Afghanistan – its destroyed cities and dead citizens – events which whip her up in a romanticised rage. She launches then into a strange flighty story about a purchase of party hats from a fingerless Afghani, about a trip to his homeland, about a sexual encounter under an olive tree.
Written just before that awful September 11th, and released just after, Kushner’s play seemed to capture the indescribable mood of the times with painful acuity. The fantasies that are inseparable from the realities; the way we freeze in the shock of uncontrollable recent events, unable to deal with them until they have congealed into a lofty ‘tragedy’ that can be digested from a comfortable time distance – even made sense of. And 13 years on, it’s interesting and ironic to revisit the play, now that the events and its consequences have faded, now that Banksy can feel free to criticise the design of the new WTC building on his website. Difficult to say what, but Kushner put his finger on something, I reckon.
A casa (Kabul) is on at Espai Lliure in Barcelona
until April 20th
The play is in Catalan
Thank you to Ros Ribas for the photos