After nearly two centuries of begging, God allows Karl Marx a brief visit to Earth to clear his name. “I am NOT a Marxist!” he emphatically declares in historian Howard Zinn’s play.
Were he alive, Marx would be 200 years old this year. He wrote Das Kapital 150 years ago. Zinn wrote Marx in Soho 19 years ago. This production has been touring for 14 years. And yet, there’s nothing dusty or musty about it. Marx’s look at capitalism and prediction of the rise of the 1% couldn’t feel more relevant and important than it does here and now.
Zinn’s play is a masterful exploration of Marx as a philosopher and as a human being. The play seamlessly flows from fiery denunciations of Stalin or the fall of Paris Commune to charming stories of drunkenly fighting with anarchist Mikhail Bakunin or getting shown up by his youngest daughter Eleanor.
Marx in Soho stars Bob Weick in the title role, and has ever since 2004,when the production received Zinn’s direct blessing. After all this time, Weick is an old hand at playing Marx. He even looks rather like the philosopher, albeit by way of Walt Whitman. Under John Doyle’s direction, he keeps pace with Zinn’s play with no problem, drawing the audience with furtive intimacy or blowing us all back into our seats with another screed.
Marx in Soho
closes July 27, 2018
Details and tickets
Weick nails something that makes one-performer-shows shine; he keeps busy. Marx has a beer to sip, newspaper clippings and books to reference, and, most powerfully, a chair with his wife’s scarf draped over it. Just one mournful look at that chair turns Marx from a titanic historical figure to a pitiable mortal, though ironically so in this case.
One blaring weakness in the performance is the disappearance of Marx’s poor health midplay, something that has somehow dogged him through the centuries and all the way to St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in SW DC but not past the first half hour of the show. A good chunk of the script, tied to his failing marriage and how critics dismiss his work, is about his boils, which torture him and make sitting excruciating. But there is only one moment in the full show that Marx has any trouble sitting, in a show where he is often on his feet to rant before slamming back down on a chair to brood. His rattling cough, which occasionally visits, can be forgiven and forgotten. But boils are key to the show’s climactic call to action.
For opening night, the show also dropped two of three light cues. Marx in Soho is virtually without any technical demands, with the occasional flashes of light meant to demonstrate God’s disapproval when Marx begins to strain against his leash too hard. It’s a little awkward for Marx to work up a full head of steam, glance meaningfully at the lightboard operator, and then deflate himself with no impetus. Hopefully, God will attend later performances.
Perhaps the most important thing about Marx in Soho is how it retains a tender heart. It’s been a hard year for a lot of us, and it means the world to have Marx step down from Heaven and demand we shake off this numbness, let ourselves feel the pain we feel too small to change, and fight.
Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn. Directed by John Doyle. Performed by Bob Weick. Produced by Iron Age Theatre. Presented at Capital Fringe Festival 2018. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.