Mary Myers is about to embark to the Edinburgh Fringe festival to play Karl Marx in Mark in Soho. Before leaving, she’s given us these words as she prepares for her last show in the States.
The conceit of Marx in Soho is that Karl Marx, enraged at how his ideas are being interpreted and disregarded, petitions the powers that be in the afterlife to let him return to Earth. He is permitted to return, but through a bureaucratic mistake doesn’t arrive in his desired location of Soho, London (where he lived for a large portion of his life), but rather in America. He is gifted with an audience, to whom he explains that he has come back to clear his name. The show’s arc travels through Marx’s theories, his personal life, his deeply conflicted but hugely passionate relationship with his wife, and modern day politics and economics. There is no fourth wall; Marx speaks directly to the audience, inviting them to listen to him and respond. The final moment of the play is a call to action; a cry to fight back against capitalist oppression.
You did this show in 2017. Why do it again?
When Nu Sass produced this show in 2017, the response it received was absolutely incredible. We were astonished at how directly and immediately the play affected our audiences, and how many people were moved by its content (sometimes to anger, and sometimes to complete emotional catharsis). The play is truly extraordinary. Howard Zinn’s script is brilliantly detailed and gorgeously constructed, and it’s funny as hell, but I think were were surprised to see how many people were willing to listen to Karl; to engage with him and create moments of community. And the sad truth is that the play’s attack on capitalism, and its horror at how financial greed and racist ideologies have poisoned the American dream, are growing increasingly more relevant. So we wanted to explore the play again and share it with more people in an effort to further the community and the conversation.
Where did the Edinburgh idea come from?
Angela Pirko (the show’s director) had the notion that this play was ripe for an international audience, and looking at the spread of right-wing populism in the United Kingdom, and knowing the incredible artistic community that is the Edinburgh Fringe…she said we should try to do it. And I thought that was a pretty swell idea. It seemed like an amazing opportunity to take a play that is inherently American and share it with people who are navigating similarly toxic political climates. It’s a play that shows the worst we are capable of and the best were are capable of, and we are all in a moment where we need stand up (nationally and internationally) to fight back and show our best selves.
What does this role mean to you?
Absolutely everything. This role has truly changed my life in every way imaginable. I am more educated, more disciplined, and more politically aware and active because of this show. I love sharing Marx’s story and Zinn’s words with audiences, and am perpetually humbled by the work. Though, I must admit, I have so much more Marxist paraphernalia in my house than I ever thought I would have.
Why do you think this play matters?
Oh gosh…because America is kind of on fire. I look at what is happening in the White House; I look at what is happening along our southern border; I see what is happening to women’s rights and LGBTQIA+ rights; I see the assault on people of color; I see the disregard for humanity…and I’m horrified. And disgusted. And disappointed. But I truly, completely, absolutely believe that we are capable of greatness, and we are capable of kindness. We can do better, we can…but people must get off their asses.
Karl Marx had an ego the size of a small country (well, maybe not that small), and in the play he is forced to examine his own certainty, and to grapple with the realization that it is more important to fight against evil and support the oppressed than to have a bunch of smart, white, dead people tell you that you’re correct. What does being “right” matter if you are not helping fix the problem?
Intellectual smugness has no place in a fire. Look at yourself; learn what you do not know; admit when you are wrong; put yourself into the fight; talk to people who know more than you do; talk to people, in general; help those who need help. It’s an incredibly noble and important message, and one the audience is able to explore because Karl is working through the same thing; fighting against his own ego and preconceived notions in an effort to do the most good. And I think it’s supremely important that this role is being done by a person who is very physically different from Marx, because it gives the audience both the necessary alienation, and also the necessary invitation to communicate. We don’t want to watch a white man yell as us.
What do you hope to get out of your final DMV show and your Edinburgh run?
BUTTS IN SEATS! These cities are as hungry for this message now as they were in 2017. I love DC, and I can’t wait to build community in a new country with Angie and Francesca Chilcote (our astonishing stage manager) by my side.