Think Karl Marx became irrelevant after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union?
Not so, insists Philly actor Bob Weick, who returns to Fringe in a performance of Howard Zinn’s one-man show Marx in Soho, an imagined monologue by the author of the Communist Manifesto in which he addresses contemporary American issues.
Weick, 62, lives in the Fairmount section of the city. He first did the show at the Fringe in 2004 and has worked with Zinn over the years to keep the script updated with current events. He plans to take the show to Europe next year for the centennial of Marx’s birth.
The Iron Age Theatre production premieres Tuesday at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square and plays for eight shows through Sept. 22.
Information: 215-413-1318, fringearts.com.
Tell me about the show. Is there a story? What’s Marx up to?
The play essentially is a monologue, and the premise is that Marx is bargaining with authorities of the afterlife to come to America so he can advocate for peace and social justice here. It’s a comic opening, but it’s a conceit that allows Howard Zinn to bring Marx to the present time.
The play has evolved over time.
Originally, it was a period piece set in Soho with multiple characters talking about historical issues.
You’ve performed the show off and on for more than a dozen years. Has there been much demand for it?
I started at the Philadelphia Fringe in 2004, and the experience was great. Each night the audience would get larger and larger, and eventually it sold out. At that point, educators started to approach me, local college professors, about bringing the play to their campuses, because at the collegiate level you have to deal with Marx in so many fields, from philosophy and history to political science and, of course, economics.
I can imagine plenty of students have asked why you believe Marx is relevant in a post-Cold War world.
I think a lot of Americans confuse Marx with communist Russia and with Stalin. And that’s something the play addresses: Stalin is roundly attacked by Marx.
So is the idea that Marx is dead and capitalism has triumphed?
That’s also addressed. Zinn has Marx talk about things that are relevant to today’s world.
How relevant is Marx?
Marx can be criticized on many different areas of his philosophy, but one thing that people universally agree remains relevant is his critique of capitalism as an economic system. It’s a system that isn’t really questioned anymore. It’s a system that produces a kind of exploitation and alienation in people living under it … [and] economic inequality. I think it’s interesting that Marx is relevant when you think of recent events like the 2008 economic crisis, and the response of Occupy Wall Street to that, or you think of how Bernie Sanders has become the most popular politician in America.
I imagine you’ve encountered some hostile audiences.
Oh, absolutely. There have been shows where I have felt open hostility in the audience. I’ve been on campuses where you can tell the students are only there because their professors required them to go. “ ‘How dare you bring this villain, this madman to campus,’ ” they say. But over the course of the play, even the most hostile audience begins to soften. I can see people get confused and unsettled.
Their idea of Marx doesn’t jibe with what you show?
No. By the end of the play, the students are ready to talk.
Marx in Soho
Produced by Iron Age Theatre/Radical Acts. Opens Tuesday, Sept. 5, at The Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. Tickets: $15, $10 students. Information: 215-413-1318, fringearts.com,