Marx in Soho
There is a specter haunting LoDo. It is the specter of Karl Marx. How could this happen, you ask? Contrary to Khrushchev's prophesy, didn't we bury him along with the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of capitalism in China?
Apparently not. Thanks to the importuning of his friends, including Socrates, Gandhi, Mother Jones, Mark Twain, and Buddha, he has been granted a special dispensation by the powers that be in the next life to return to earth to clear his good name.
Due to a bureaucratic error—yes, even on the other side it seems we are confounded by institutional inanities—Marx has been sent to Denver's LoDo instead of his old haunt, London's Soho. Despite the unfamiliar setting and the passage of 122 years since his death, his ability to challenge us remains unchanged.
as Karl Marx
"I am not a Marxist!" he declares early on in his soliloquy, disputing the notion that those who use his name in the service of totalitarianism are socialists.
"They claim that because the Soviet Union collapsed, Communism is dead. ... Do they think that a system run by a thug who murders his fellow revolutionaries is Communism!"
Rather, Marx says, the objective of Communism is "Freedom of the individual! To develop himself, herself, as a compassionate human being."
Written by Boston University historian Howard Zinn, the portrait of the man whom BBC Radio 4 listeners, in July of this year, named as the "Greatest Philosopher of All Time," is filled with personal and philosophical details.
Christopher Kendall inhabits Marx with fiery passion, moral confidence, and fatherly tenderness that brings alive a spirit who spent 15 years at the library in the British Museum researching his 2,300 page analytical masterpiece, "Capital," while living in the squalor of England's capitol city and seeing three of his six children die from hunger and cold.
First performed in Washington, D.C., in 1995, the examples cited by Marx—from contemporary newspapers and U.S. Department of Labor statistics—require no updating to make their point.
"Giant merger of Chemical Bank and Chase Manhattan Bank. Twelve thousand workers will lose jobs ... Stocks rise," he reads from the Wall Street Journal.
Or, "On my way here today, I walked through the streets of your city, surrounded by garbage, breathing foul air, past the bodies of men and women sleeping in the street, huddled against the cold."
Yet Kendall seamlessly weaves in the abandonment of the poor and infirm in New Orleans as further evidence of the inhumane manner in which the rich govern on their own behalf.
This does not mean that Marx didn't appreciate the amazing productive capacity of capitalism, only that he found it misapplied. "Yes, capitalism has accomplished wonders unsurpassed in history—miracles of technology and science. But it is preparing its own death. Its voracious appetite for profit—more, more, more—creates a world of turmoil. ... Its cry is 'Free trade!' because it needs to roam freely everywhere in the globe to make more profit—more, more, more!" Indeed, Marx' mathematics in "Capital" offer proof that capitalism is a system that must expand to survive.
With flowing silver hair and beard punctuated by Marx's telltale black moustache, Kendall's presence holds the audience rapt as he waxes on in a German accented British dialect. Despite serving as a platform for Marx's ideas, however, Zinn's script does not shirk from addressing detractors, or from Marx's unfulfilled projections.
"I confess: I did not reckon with capitalism's ingeniousness in surviving. ... War to keep the industries going, to make people crazed with patriotism so they would forget their misery. Religious fanatics promising the masses that Jesus will return. I know Jesus. He's not coming back."
These parallels that Zinn begs us to extrapolate between Marx and Jesus are sure to shock. "Do you resent my coming back and irritating you? Look at it this way. It is the second coming. Christ couldn't make it, so Marx came," he says as he exits the stage.
But the comparison makes sense in an original way: Both men proposed behaviors based on sharing, and both their teachings generated imposters that use their philosophies to support intolerance, war, and personal profit over the greater good.
The Mercury Motley Players' presentation of Marx in Soho has been extended through January 27th. 303-294-9258.