tue 21/08/2018

Homos, or Everyone in America, Finborough Theatre review - a complex pattern of glee and profundity | reviews, news & interviews

Homos, or Everyone in America, Finborough Theatre review - a complex pattern of glee and profundity

Homos, or Everyone in America, Finborough Theatre review - a complex pattern of glee and profundity

Jordan Seavey's picture of New York gay life is as moving as it is witty

Lovers in the night: Tyrone Huntley, Harry McEntireImages: Marc Brenner

I’m still not entirely sure what the full associations of the title of New York playwright Jordan Seavey’s new play – its second element, at least: the first speaks for itself – may be, but with writing this accomplished any such uncertainties fall away. Homos, or Everyone in America powerfully combines smart wit and smarting pain, and its inherent energy comes across beautifully in a production from Josh Seymour that positively fizzes (this is the play’s European premiere, after an acclaimed Off Broadway debut two years ago).

You might think that Seavey is being equally elliptical about his two main characters by naming them simply “the Writer” (played by Harry McEntire) and “the Academic” (Tyrone Huntley), but the effect is anything but. These are as closely, delicately realised individuals as you could imagine, the former white (and agnostically Jewish), the latter Latino; they live in Brooklyn, the neighbourhoods of which are in the kind of incessant transition typical of New York’s boroughs. We certainly feel that we come to know them very well as we follow the trajectory of their relationship over a period of five years: McEntire and Huntley are in their skins in the roles.

It engrosses from the beginning and runs through a packed 105 minutes without let-up

Where Seavey is elliptical, however, is in the structure of his play, assembled as it is from “moments scattered between 2006-2011”, as he has described it. There’s nothing unconventional about the events covered in themselves, from first date to break-up, via “first fight” and “first talk about monogamy”, but the manner of their assembly is studied. Seavey determinedly avoids continuity of narrative, returning to scenes a number of times at different moments in the play and developing them accordingly. We may puzzle about the play’s opening in a branch of LUSH – its array of cosmetics products, principally a variety of bath bombs, are a surround element in Lee Newby’s excellent in-the-round design – while the significance of brief early throw-in scenes becomes apparent only gradually. The fact that they relate to a shocking element of off-stage action makes the revelation all the more incrementally powerful.

It’s an ingenious construction, and there’s certainly satisfaction in the understanding that dawns as the plot’s puzzles come together (the reiteration of the LUSH opening is especially strong). But it’s when you consider how easily such complexity might have limited the impact of Homos to artifice alone, that the scale of Seavey’s achievement becomes apparent. Intellect comes to chime with emotion in a story told with a deep level of engagement and often unflinching intimacy.

It’s also very funny, flavoured with a wit that is sometimes dirty, often mordant, which grows as the relationship between the two men builds, and they fall into a kind of easy, habitual banter in which their lines – Seavey writes in short phrases – enmesh with all the flexibility that their bodies achieve in a wonderful scene (pictured below) that symbolically conveys the ecstatic conjoining of sex. These are two individuals of undeniable intelligence, and their repartee is enjoyably acerbic, with irony flowing in both directions (his partner’s description of the Writer as a “gay Woody Allen” gives a nice sense of the play’s general humour).  HomosSeavey conveys a great sense of the experience of New York itself – the summer heat, nights when the electricity on the block goes out – even if the gradations of Brooklyn neighbourhoods, from Park Slope to Williamsburg, are going to be a stretch for British audiences; some plot elements, defined by social moments such as the rallies to support the striking-down of the Defense of Marriage Act, may go the same way. But if the role of some individuals in the story (politician Ed Koch, for one) doesn’t immediately resound, the literary tradition of American gay writing, from Kramer to Kushner, does: Seavey both references and continues it. The fads of the moment change quickly (allusions to the social media network Friendster in the play’s early scenes now seem prehistoric) but the universality of message remains. In fact, that may well be just what his subtitle, “Everyone in America”, really refers to.

Seymour and designer Newby have reinvented the Finborough’s space as a sort of sandpit, its floor a central square that doubles as a bed for the lovers, and as combat ring for their rapid-fire dialogue. It’s a frenetic experience for all concerned, as McEntire and Huntley fast-forward and -back to convey the play’s timescale as it jumps around (their delivery is equally nimble). Just occasionally you wonder whether a more pronounced modulation of pace would reward through contrast: there’s a late scene in which the two men reencounter one another after a separation of two-and-a-half years which might benefit from an extra degree of awkwardness, rather than just continuation.  

But such quibbles are slight indeed in a production that engrosses from the beginning and runs through a packed 105 minutes without let-up (or interval). It’s practically a two-hander, but it would be wrong to leave it without mentioning the two supporting characters, especially Dan Krikler as the third party in the relationship Dan, and Cash Holland as Laila, as well as the show's lighting and sound design, and movement direction. Homos is a play we will definitely be seeing again, and in considerably larger venues, but it’s hard to imagine it being done much better than it is here.  

They fall into a kind of easy, habitual banter in which their lines enmesh with all the flexibility that their bodies achieve in a wonderful scene that symbolically conveys the ecstatic conjoining of sex

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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