Marx in Soho at La Salle
The stage in the Dan Rodden Theatre is modestly set: a green bench, a small wooden table adorned with a red tablecloth and two simple chairs are all that makes up the set of Howard Zinn’s Marx in Soho.
The lights in the theater dim, and the small crowd of professors and students go quiet as the clinking of change and the ringing of cash registers that kicks off “Money” by Pink Floyd fills the speakers. A man saunters in from the back of the theater and makes his way toward the front, pausing every few steps to admire the crowd. He is wearing a crisped collared shirt, a button- down vest and sports a beard comparable only to the English professor Dr. Stephen Smith’s.
When he reaches the front of the room he sets down his oversized handbag and turns to face the crowd with a grin. “Thank God. An audience.”
Actor Bob Weick of the Iron Age Theatre has come to La Salle as Karl Marx in Zinn’s acclaimed play. Sponsored by the programming center, adjunct communication professor Joseph Papryzki and senior marketing major Jordan Feld brought the performance to La Salle after their own company.
“It’s an important piece of work from an important writer,” said Papryzki. “And Howard Zinn is one of the greatest thinkers in the 20th century.”
The play was created with the intent to put a more humane spin on Marx’s writing and ideas. “Humanizing something makes it easier to understand,” stated Papryzki, which is advantageous for college students in philosophy, economics, political science and history classes who may struggle to read through Marx’s dense material.
Marx began by sharing that he knew he was dead, but had come back in order to “clear his name.” He regaled the audience about how he came to end up in Soho, London after he and his family were expelled from Germany for the questionable opinions of the newspaper he edited. “The most revolutionary act one can engage in is the truth,” said Marx. He was kicked out France and Belgium as well and ended up in the dank slums of Soho.
Throughout the play, the monologue bounced from the gravely serious to the sardonically humorous and kept the audience enthralled.
He made sober cracks about the use of capital punishment in “developed” countries and condemned the use of violence in revolutions in one breath and in the next whined about his boils. He related a story of a drunken scrap he got into with an anarchist and expressed his love for his friend Engels, who financially supported him through much of his time in Soho.
He spoke fondly of his family, a side of Marx that is not commonly expressed. He told stories of his daughter Eleanor, from her young revolutionary ideals to her unsavory boyfriends. He grew somber as he confided in the audience the trials he and his wife Jenny went through as they lost several of their children to illness.
Jenny was a major subject of his monologue. A young beauty who left the life of aristocracy to support her husband on his quest for the equality of the proletariat, she was both Marx’s strongest supporter and harshestcritic. At one point he was near tears as he shared Jenny’s misery after a bout with smallpox that left her scarred for life.
But the play was not merely the relation of Marx’s home life. In a clever blend of history and current events he discussed his contentions with capitalism by citing events from the homeless living on the streets of Philadelphia to the to the exploitation of workers during America’s railroad era to the Paris Commune in 1871, an event he deemed, “the most glorious achievement of our time.”
“Yes, capitalism has triumphed,” he said to the crowd, “but over whom?”
Weick’s portrayal of Marx was an engaging and exceptional display of acting that made a subject many college students find mind-numbing into a play that kept the audience occupied and thinking.
Before he left the stage, Marx looked to the audience once more. “Well, look at it this way. Christ couldn’t make it … so Marx came.”email@example.com
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