Thursday, 17 November 2016

HOMOS: OR EVERYONE IN AMERICA by Jordan Seavey presented by Labyrinth Theater Company

     In the affecting, often funny HOMOS, Jordan Seavey takes a relatively standard narrative for romantic drama and film--lovers "meet cute," fall in love, fight, break up, reunite after one is badly injured--and uses it as a platform for arguments about contemporary racial, gender and gay politics. What makes HOMOS original is Seavey's non-linear arrangement of events.
     For some reason, Seavey's lovers aren't given names, but are known only by their profession (The Academic, The Writer). This only makes sense of these characters are generic (are there generic writers and academics?). The Writer has written a short story that bears many similarities to Seavey's play, THE TRUTH WILL OUT. Are we, perhaps to see the play as autobiographical? The Writer is a Jewish atheist whose political views are often less logical than passionate. The Academic (his fields are gender and media studies) easily pokes holes in the writer's lack of logic. From what we see, the two spend most of their  time together arguing. In fact, as I watched the play, I couldn't help but wonder what kept these guys together beyond a need to be with someone. As in many dramas we categorize as gay plays, the lovers spend a lot of time arguing about what it means to be gay. Monogamy is a key issue: The Writer wants to experiment but The Academic wants a stable, committed relationship.  Seavey also wants us to see that being gay can still be perilous, even in trendy Brooklyn.
     My summary makes the play seem more hackneyed than it is. Seavey knows how to write vibrant dialogue and the non-linear time frame keeps the audience absorbed in putting the pieces together. HOMOS is thoroughly enjoyable even if we have the sense at times that we've been there before. What makes the play more than the sum of its parts is its presentation. Like Mike Bartlett's COCK, HOMOS is given a stripped down, minimalist production. No set except a window, few props, no costume changes for the principals who barely leave the stage. In the tiny Bank Street Theatre, the playing area is about as wide as a hallway. The audience is so close to the actors that we could touch them. The success of the production depends on the actors and Seavey and his director Mike Donohue couldn't have a better pair than Michael Urie and Robin De Jesus. There's a real challenge to acting that close to an audience, particularly in a play as emotionally raw as this one. Any inauthenticity ruins the performance. These two fine actors make what could be cliched moments believable. Regular New York theatergoers know how well Michael Urie can win over an audience. Is there a more charming performer? His character is deeply flawed, but Urie makes us see how someone could fall in love with him. De Jesus, usually a featured performer in musicals (he won a Tony for his performance in IN THE HEIGHTS), has the greater challenge as his character is more emotionally raw, more vulnerable. It's not always easy to modulate the big moments he is given in such a small space. He never overdoes it. When he cries out that he needs to be held, it's hard to resist reaching out and comforting him. As I walked back to the subway I pondered what the play would be like with other actors in the roles. It will happen, of course, but I'm glad I got to see these two fine performers work together so brilliantly. Aaron Costa Ganis and Stacey Sargent are fine in small supporting roles but the play belongs to the two leads who give real star turns. Mike Donahue has crafted the perfect production for this play.
     I hope Labyrinth can extend this superb production so more folks can see Urie and De Jesus work together in this enjoyable, often moving play.

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