Howard Zinn’s “Marx In Soho” Hits the Mark At The Social Stage

By Ernest Kearney  —  Howard Zinn, the socialist academic, is most familiar as the author of the 1980 revisionist A People’s History of the United States, which managed and still manages to rattle the cages of historians on both sides of the political spectrum.

But Zinn’s literary efforts were far more extensive even producing three dramatic works, Emma (1976) about American Anarchist, and activist, Emma Goldman, Daughter of Venus (1985) a family drama revolving around the nuclear disarmament movement, and his short piece Marx in Soho (1999).

The Social Stage on Wilshire Boulevard, which attempts the interesting fusion of theatre and “salon”, has mounted Zinn’s evening with Karl Marx, economic philosopher, political theorist and journalist, in his London Soho flat where he and his family lived from 1849 to his death in 1883.

Opening in Marx’s living room as we watch clips from Fox News of school shootings, the Bitcoin market and Putin we are easily lead from Marx in Soho to Marx in Noho, as Marx (Gera Hermann) reminds us how far removed from the woes of Victorian capitalism — the inequality of wealth, the homeless on the streets of London and the stifling poverty contrasting the affluence of the society — we are today.

Hermann is both believable and engaging as Marx, who repeatedly reminds us that he is not a “Marxist.”  Director Ye’ela Rosenfeld succeeds in removing Marx from the pedestal and in stripping off the marble encasement to present the audience with a man who is first and foremost deeply moved by the suffering of those he sees about him, and who cannot understand how a society can ignore its citizens sleeping in the streets.  Filling the window of Marx’s flat is a factory in the distance with a flag proudly waving which slowly, almost imperceptibly, falls into disuse and ruin, giving a nice touch that also serves as the handwriting on the wall.

Whatever flaws, with which one might challenge Zinn’s historical writing, Marx in Soho is a straightforward and precise depiction of the great man reinforcing Marx’s adage: “The most revolutionary act one can engage in is to tell the truth.”

An unfortunate short run of this play is its only flaw.  Tickets are offered at “Pay What You Can Afford” and each performance is followed by a “conversation about Marxism.”  Serious discussion and solid drama, a wonderful combination.

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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