2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Marx in Soho’ by Iron Age Theatre/Radical Acts at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia

Actor and activist Bob Weick is back in the Fringe with his signature touring show Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn, which he first performed in the festival in 2004. Presented by Iron Age Theatre/Radical Acts and directed by John Doyle, the current production commemorates the upcoming 200th anniversary of the revolutionary socialist’s birth in 1818, and the 150 years since his publication of Das Kapital in 1867. Under the premise that Marx has been allowed to come back to life for about an hour to rectify the “Marxist” misinterpretations of his philosophy, to offer a true explication of his ideals, and to declare that they’re not dead, Zinn’s funny, fervid, and well-researched script makes connections between the inequities, voraciousness, and failures of capitalism then and now, with specific references to the relevance of Marx’s principles for contemporary America.

Bob Weick. Photo by John Doyle.

Bob Weick. Photo by John Doyle.

Weick’s tour-de-force solo performance is humorous and impassioned, personal and all-inclusive, as Doyle moves him around the simple set, furnished with two wooden chairs and a table covered, appropriately, with a red cloth. Dressed in a period-style three-piece suit, he addresses the audience directly and intently, pacing back and forth, pulling books, papers, and a beer out of his old-fashioned valise, perching atop one of the chair backs with his feet firmly planted on the seat, and climbing up a few steps in the venue as if speaking to a crowd, as he reasserts his indictment of capitalist economics and his famous rallying cry “Workers of the world unite!” Weick fully inhabits his role, capturing a range of authentic emotions in Marx’s reminisces about his wife and family; his time spent in Paris and London; his relationships, disagreements, and confrontations with fellow radicals Friedrich Engels, Pierre-Joseph Prudhon, and Mikhail Bekunin (whom he skewers with a hilarious imitation); and his heartfelt admiration for “the most glorious achievement” of the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871 – all delivered with profound empathy and given emphasis with believable gestures.

Marx in Soho plays in a double bill with the world-premiere production of playwright Rich Bradford’s To My Unborn Child: A Love Letter from Fred Hampton (the Deputy Chairman of the Black Panther Party who was killed in his bed by police in 1969, at the age of 21). If anyone has any doubt that Marx and his humane ideals are still very much alive, you can find them right here, at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia, in Iron Age’s ardent socio-political works.

Running Time: 70 minutes, without intermission.

Marx in Soho plays through Friday, September 22, 2017, at Iron Age Theatre/Radical Acts, performing at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia – 1906 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.

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