Written by Matt Swanseger
Proletarians unite! The Performing Artists Collective Alliance has a little something they'd like you to bourgeois-see. Or, more accurately, someone.
Who? Why, none other than 19th century German philosopher, economist, and socialist revolutionary Karl Heinrich Marx, in the flesh. You might remember him as the author of The Communist Manifesto (1848) and the three-volume Das Kapital (1867-1883), in which he keenly diagnoses the shortcomings of capitalism while proposing an alternative in socialism/communism (terms he used interchangeably). Hailed as a messiah in some circles and reviled as a pariah in others, Marx is simultaneously one of the most influential and misunderstood thinkers in history.
In American historian Howard Zinn's one-man play Marx in Soho, the bushy-faced contrarian (portrayed by Ken Brundage) is here to set the record straight. The premise is as follows — after asking afterlife authorities for a one-hour recess to the overworld to clear his name, Marx is accidentally reincarnated in the fancy Soho neighborhood of Manhattan rather than the humble Soho neighborhood of London where he spent the last years of his life.
A stroll through the modern-day Big Apple only serves to further illustrate many of the same incongruities he'd spotted in capitalist society 160 years ago — things like the vast majority of wealth being concentrated into the hands of very few, hoards of people selling themselves out (time, talent, energy) to unfulfilling jobs, and workers tying their survival to single-mindedly profiteering employers. If you've ever wondered what's wrong with that picture, that was exactly his point.
Zinn takes great care to paint Marx as a nuanced and sympathetic figure — a family man struggling to make ends meet, brilliant and insightful but also humanly flawed. Core Marxist tenets like the abolishment of the nation-state, the dissolution of social classes, and the establishment of a free association of producers are introduced anecdotally, conveyed through colorful recollections of real-life experiences rather than droning lectures. He drinks beer, tells jokes, pauses for words, emotes — you know, like a person.
Marxism has become a trigger word for some — and who could blame them? His ideas have been adapted (he'd argue distorted) by some pretty awful people and regimes over the years — it's fair to say they missed their Marx. Furthermore, many scholars agree that Marx never presented a cogent and actionable plan to make his ideas actually work.
Even if you never in your life mount a revolt, if you'd relish an opportunity to think more critically about the world around you, Marx's posthumous cameo in Soho (or PACA or your living room) may be just the ticket.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. // PACA, 1505 State St. // $40 in-person couples (limit 11), $10 online streaming // paca1505.org