“Is there anything more outrageous than an honest critic?” asks Karl Marx (Mary Myers) at one point during Nu Sass Productions’ presentation of Howard Zinn’s 1999 one-person show, Marx in Soho. Luckily for Nu Sass, this honest critic thinks the timely and timeless production is outrageously well done.
The premise of the piece is quite simple: Karl Marx returns from the great beyond (where he’s been palling around with Ghandi, Mother Jones, and—yes—even Jesus) for one evening to talk about his work, his life, and to essentially remind everyone how right he’s been all along. This is far from a Marxism 101 lecture, however—yes, there’s some complicated talk about the capitalist system, but it takes a backseat to the often-overlooked details of Marx and his family’s life while he lived in London’s Soho neighborhood, writing and barely subsisting.
With Marx in Soho, Nu Sass continues its commitment to gender-blind casting, choosing to have Mary Myers play the eponymous scholar. This was a very wise decision, as Myers embodies the part masterfully—literally, at times, with her body, as when she’s explaining the nature and torture of Marx’s chronic boils, flitting around the room to flip through piled-high books, and recounting a drunken wrestling match with Mikhail Bakunin that ended with the Russian anarchist pissing out the apartment’s window into the street.
Marx in Soho may technically be a one-person show, but Myers, under Angela Kay Pirko’s measured and naturalistic direction, does great work to include the audience in the piece. She ad-libs with the crowd, passes around photos and news clippings, and asks questions that are anything but rhetorical. When she enters at the top of the show and declares, “Oh, thank God for an audience!” you believe she really means it.
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Marx in Soho
closes April 2, 2017
Details and tickets
Part of the intimacy of the show can also be attributed to Jessica Cancino’s set design, which transforms Caos on F into a cozy, mid-1800s study, credibly filled with books, papers, and worn-in furniture. The lighting (E-Hui Woo) and sound (Hope Villanueva) are subtle, and work together to further the convincing feeling of being in someone’s—even a long-deceased someone’s—home.
Obviously, due to the political climate of the moment, Marx’s statements on the timeliness of his thoughts and theories (“Why is it necessary to declare me dead again and again?!” he asks) are resonant. But the more-fascinating details the script reveals are those you probably didn’t learn in a lecture hall—Marx’s relationship with this wife (sometimes strained by his perhaps-too-close relationship with their maid) and his daughters, the deplorable conditions of his Soho neighborhood, and his blunt feelings about the sycophantic Marxists of his time. Particularly thought-provoking in this time of near-constant debate over privilege, who has it, and what it means, is the frank conversation about how Marx’s writings were largely subsidized by his aristocratic in-laws and his friends who in some cases happened to be factory owners and other pillars of the capitalist system.
Marx in Soho is both entertaining and enlightening, giving you some things to think about long after you’ve left the theater. The only quibble I have with it, in fact, is that, looking around the room at my fellow DC theatre lovers and makers in the audience, I couldn’t help but think that more than a little preaching to the choir was being done. If Nu Sass could be convinced to tour this production around the country, it surely could do more to start a real dialog about the winners and losers in American society than a million hours’ worth of cable news punditry ever could.
Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn. Directed by Angela Kay Pirko. Cast: Mary Myers. Set design: Jessica Cancino. Lighting design: E-Hui Woo. Costume design: Aubri O’Connor. Sound design: Hope Villanueva. Props design/production manager: Becky Mezzanotte. Stage manager: Lucette Moran. Technical director: Eric McMorris. Produced by Nu Sass Productions. Reviewed by John Bavoso.