Have you ever wished you could return to a conversation after-the-fact to clarify a misunderstanding? So did Karl Marx, at least in the witty and poignant one-man show, Marx in Soho, which is playing through September 18th at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre (“Spotlighters.”) The show, directed by Sherrionne Brown, is rousing, intellectual and fun. Whether you’re a fan of Marx or not, this well-crafted production makes for an excellent night at the theater.
Penned by noted historian/activist Howard Zinn – best known for his excellent book, A People’s History of the United States – Marx in Soho is based on the premise that, over a century after his death, Karl Marx has finally managed to convince the afterlife authorities to let him return to Earth for a couple hours to “clear his name.” Rerouted by a clerical error, Marx finds himself in Soho, New York rather than his intended destination, Soho, London, where he lived after being ousted from several other European countries. Reading up on current events in modern American papers, Marx weighs in on not only the misconceptions about his life’s work, but also on how little has changed in the world since his departure. The show puts into stark relief how many of the issues of Marx’s time – income inequality, poverty, and unchecked nationalism – remain with us today.
Phil Gallagher is both engaging and outrageously funny as temporarily resurrected 19th-century German philosopher Karl Marx. He is passionate and introspective, humorous and inspiring. His heavily German-accented English is spot on as Gallagher recounts the events of his day and how he came to write his books, Das Kapital and, to a lesser degree, The Communist Manifesto. Through anecdotes and memories, the play also introduces a number of people who were central to Marx’s life – his wife, Jenny, his kids, and his frenemy, the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. Gallagher’s storytelling is charming as he, in character, affects different accents for the players in his remembrances and acts out some entertaining interactions between him and his long-dead contemporaries.
The creative team behind this production worked together to make an intimate, well-appointed environment. Director Sherrionne Brown also served as Set, Scenic, and Sound Designer for the show. The unity of vision between all these elements worked beautifully. The sparse set provided Gallagher room to lecture, reflect and rabble-rouse to all sides of the in-the-round theater space.
Costume Designer Andrew Malone outfitted Gallagher in period-appropriate attire that was natty while still somehow still hinting that Marx had been knocking around heaven in it for a century and a half. Fuzz Roark’s lighting design brought it all together; warm and intimate as Marx recounted personal family stories, bright and bold when Marx was passionately espousing his beliefs. It was also made obvious when the cosmic authorities thought Marx might be agitating a bit much for their taste.
Spotlighters’ production of Marx in Soho is an educational, enjoyable play very well-executed. Gallagher’s portrayal of the eponymous philosopher is compelling and passionate and provides uncommon insight into Marx, the man, while also examining Marx, the icon. Friend or foe of the man’s theories, Marx in Soho provides an entertaining night of theater magic. But, as Marx would demand, you’ve got to get off your seats to come and see it. Like resurrected Karl Marx, this show will only be at Spotlighters for a short time. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this engaging and timely performance.
Running time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Marx in Soho plays through September 18, 2016 at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre – 817 St. Paul Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.