There is a beautiful scene in the middle of Homos, Or Everyone in America where its male characters sing in three-part harmony to the song ‘Kiss Me Like You Mean It’ by The Magnetic Fields. It is a wonderful respite from the arguing, the flirty banter, the intense passion and the desolation that otherwise makes up playwright Jordan Seavey’s heavyweight play about a couple and homosexuality in America.
The Brooklyn-based couple, given the pseudonyms The Academic and The Writer, have the kind of combustible relationship where arguments – consisting of never-ending intellectualised run-on sentences, pointed accusations and double entendres – seem to last for hours. This is arguing as an art and a sport, where even if you want to look away, you can’t, because you want to see what happens next.
Their names may be trite but the characters are full-bodied composites of electrifying personality mixed with flesh and blood/spit/sweat/semen. Harry McEntire as The Writer took a while to relax into his insecure “gay Woody Allen” persona but as soon as he did, he radiated chemistry with Tyrone Huntley’s more rational and subdued The Academic. Dan Krikler as the charming third party in the relationship and Cash Holland as a chatty Lush salesgirl of the present round off the capable cast, but the focus of the play is undoubtedly on the somewhat unnaturally verbose couple.
Seavey cycles through five years of their relationship (2006 to 2011) in a non-linear fashion, moving the action backwards and forwards in time. Poetically this is played out with a dreamy set filled with sand (Lee Newby), its blank smoothness quickly disturbed as the action progresses. Director Josh Seymour had the cast moving in fast-forward or fast-backward during the transitions, which was rather unnecessary given the skilful writing. (Unexpectedly, Seavey told Exeunt last year that he wrote the play as is – a feat given its 105-minute run-time.)
The result is a play that is relentless and yes, slightly tiring, as a relationship sometimes is. You are constantly trying to make sense of the pieces of the puzzle, what happened when and why and hellowhoisthishandsomestranger and omgwhydoeshelooklikeheisdying? Of course, because everything is meticulously crafted, the mysteries unfold in due time and we are rewarded for our patience.
The BIG QUESTION in this play is how progress is charted. Circa-2011, Obama-era America looks to be moving towards marriage equality, but one hate crime later, the play shows that even a hard-won legal adjustment cannot change attitudes overnight. Not even in hip, trendy Williamsburg.
The “personal is political” trope can sometimes be cliche, but Homos manages to avoid this trap. Where it soars is in its warts-and-all depiction of a gay relationship, that both acknowledges and subverts the expectations people might have about the homosexual community, whilst acknowledging where it stands vis-a-vis politics and civil society. Drug use, club culture, infidelity, casual and overt racism and classism, and even the use of the word “faggot” are at least alluded to, if not dealt with and subverted, in this ambitious portrayal.
Watching this play is a lot like finding yourself in the middle of a fight between two bickering friends/lovers. It gets intense, but you find yourself a little jealous of this love writ large that’s unabashedly us-against-the-world.
These are not underdogs but champion fighters who have found ways to survive and push back in this world that can be so full of hate. By the end, The Writer and The Academic are put through the wringer, and a question mark hangs above them. You hope they find happiness. Or if not, something that looks very much like it.
Homos, Or Everyone in America is on at Finborough Theatre until 1 September 2018. Click here for more information.