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Marx in Soho

Theatre Review by James Wilson - May 1, 2018

Bob Weick
Photo by Kate Raines

Karl Marx is in the house, and he has some things he needs to get off his chest. In Howard Zinn's one-person play, Marx in Soho, the revolutionary socialist has come back to earth to clear his name. Due to some cosmic quirk, he has alighted in Soho, New York, rather than Soho, London, where he had lived as an exile for several years. Conditions are worse than even he had foreseen. Capitalism has not destroyed itself as he had predicted but has mucked things up more than he had dreamed possible.

Performed by Bob Weick, Marx in Soho is a freewheeling and entertaining 70-minute monologue that weaves together biographical elements from Marx's life with contemporary commentary. Marx explains, for instance, the destitute conditions on which he arrived in London in the 1850s. Movingly, he describes how three of his children died there, and the unfortunate instances of marital discord. He also shares stories of his spirited child Eleanor (whom they called Tussy), who as a child played with her dolls while sipping a glass of wine.

The play also provides a primer on his theories as presented in Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, which he wrote with Friedrich Engels. The ideas are explained simply and clearly without pandering to the audience. And while he did not expect capitalism to last as long as it has, it is obvious his ideas are needed more than ever. The play effectively negotiates the pathos of the London scenes with a call-to-arms around current societal ills.

In his short visit to New York Marx has accumulated a number of newspapers and magazines that point to the continued oppression of the working class and poor. The burgeoning prison system, for example, is set up to subjugate the lower classes, and healthcare is increasingly a privilege for the upper classes. As one often hears these days, half of the world's wealth is owned by the globe's richest 1%. The masses are given subpar education, so they are unaware of the inequities.

What are committed social justice activists to do? For Marx it is simple. People must get off their behinds and make change! Marx famously suffered from boils, and he suggests that if people imagine that have the same affliction, they would be more likely to stand up and take action.

Weick has been performing the play for the last fourteen years, and he collaborated with playwright Zinn (who died in in 2010), the noted American historian and social activist. Under John Doyle's direction, Weick's performance is rich and energizing. He does not impersonate his subject in the way that Hal Holbrook does with Mark Twain, for example, and he makes Marx a much more contemporary figure. Weick gives an impassioned performance, and it is one that humanizes Marx as it simultaneously manifests the rebellious spirit behind the man.

Perhaps, as the play shows, entreaties for social revolution are always necessary, but somehow the need seems more pressing in the current political, economic, and social climate. Now is the perfect time for the second coming of Karl Marx.

Marx in Soho
Through May 6
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street
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