Howard Zinn: His One-Man Play Produced in Denver

Historians in the News

If the usual surfeit of Christmas entertainment leaves you on the verge of a diabetic coma, Marx in Soho can provide a quick shock to the intellect.

The one-man play by historian Howard Zinn brings Karl Marx back from the dead, wandering into an audience and taking the opportunity to clear his name. Directed by Bob Buckley and starring Christopher Kendall, it's a rigorous, exciting evening more likely to radicalize liberals than to liberalize conservatives.

Kendall has so thoroughly immersed himself in the role that you'd think he'd been playing it for years. With a wavy mane and beard of gray, he takes the stage with a sophisticated, motley continental accent and a wry Jewish humor (Marx's father converted to Christianity to save his job).

Zinn artfully avoids the "and-then- this-happened" biography trap. Rather, his play in this production feels like Marx's stream-of-conscious thoughts on his life and his work.

It also captures the absurdity a human must feel when his name becomes an adjective. "I am not a Marxist," Marx declares, and with the hindsight of a man reflecting on the 20th century, he chafes at those who abused his name and ideas. "Bullies" and "dogmatists" took over his revolution, he says.

Many of his reflections carry from the past to the present day, even though both Marx and Zinn wrote the words before the millennium.

Marx (through Zinn) points to democracy as a palliative that doesn't actually serve the needs of the working class and suffers under an "opposition confining itself to pips and squeaks." Buckley updates it slightly with a reference to the abandonment of the poor in Hurricane Katrina, but rather than feeling like ham-fisted agitprop, it fits smoothly into the extemporaneous feel of the play.

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