There’s certainly no surprise as to what the play is about. Philip Dawkins’ 2011 The Homosexuals is closing out the 2012-13 Manbites Dog Theater’s season, and it is a wonderful example of how the traditional and contemporary can coexist in the same work.
Manbites usually uses just the program as the admission ticket but for this run we were all handed out a button that prominently displayed “HOMO” and in smaller letters “sexuals” and Manbites’ website. We were asked to wear it proudly, whereby we’d be admitted. After several productions where the theater had different configurations, it was now back to its “normal” black box arrangement.
The seven actors came out via the audience area and engaged in what I expected and feared the most: an obvious rip off of the opening of Friends, the hugely popular TV show for which I have no fondness. Was this going to be just another quasi-enlightened gay sitcom, minus the canned laugh tracks? Were we in for an evening of smart alecky, endless banter and swishy stereotypes? Partly yes, but that was completely overridden by the mostly extraordinary acting and complex human interaction.
The play is broken up into six vignettes, the first five using only Evan (Ryan Brock), the lead character, plus one of his friends. We would not see more than two actors on the stage at one time until the sixth and final scene, where the origins of the many relationships are revealed. The Homosexuals is a cleverly written story in reverse chronological order, starting in the year 2010 with each scene going back two years till we get to 2000.
In the opener we meet Evan and his current boyfriend, Peter (Derrick Ivey), at an ice skating rink. Evan appears as a supremely confident young man, comfortable with who he is and his place in the world. Peter takes on the role of the theatrical, effeminate stereotype, teetering on ice skates and espousing his love of musical theater. Evan is breaking up with Peter and the rapid fire banter is best described as gay Neil Simon. Next, we back up two years to Evan’s apartment, where he is visited by British Mark (to distinguish him from the other Mark). Played by Thaddaeus Edwards, this is one of the major flubs. His alleged British accent is as close as that of a Tarboro native, and although he is supposed to be flamboyant, his performance merely screams, “I am acting.” I have seen Mr. Edwards before and was quite impressed with his acting chops, so I can only lay this deficiency at the feet of director Jeff Storer.
I was not enjoying what amounted to a gay combo romcom/sitcom until the third scene. With Evan in the hospital after an appendectomy, we meet his friend Michael (Jeffrey Moore). His was a wonderfully original comedic performance with stories that reminded me a bit of David Sedaris.
After intermission we meet the first and only female of the cast, Tam (Amber Wood) as the quintessential “fag hag.” She has some of the best lines of the play and serves, as these hags often do, as confessor, confidante, and advisor to all of her gay male friends, withholding judgment. The fifth scene is perhaps the most disturbing as we witness a 2002 meeting between Evan and Mark (Gregor McElvogue), a bitter and somewhat malevolent person who sleeps with many of his students and also expects younger gay males to be beholden to him for the struggles men of his generation endured.
There are some musical compositions where it begins with variations and eventually leads to the theme at the end, rather than the usual theme first. Scene six was the theatrical version of this. A party for Collin (Chris Burner), who had lost 125 pounds, featured all of the previous characters, in the year 2000. It was also the first night in the big city for Evan, the 20-year-old who just arrived from Iowa. He is confused, afraid, and searching for a place and people where he can be himself. Ryan Brock is absolutely magnificent in this extremely huge, complex role. When he calls home and his mother claims that his father cannot come to the phone, you can see in his face the pain from all the arguments without even saying a word. If there is a “best performance" actor award in the Triangle, it should go to Brock, and that includes anything at DPAC.
So, despite its vulgar language (just describing it, not judging it) and sexual situations, The Homosexuals is really just another in a long line of coming-of-age stories. Without minimizing the prejudices that gay men and women have to face, sexual orientation becomes secondary to the struggles that any young person faces in their voyage across and through adulthood. My final impression from this was that you are blessed if you have caring friends to help you on that journey.
The Homosexuals continues through Saturday, May 18. For complete information on this production, please view the sidebar.