Homos, or Everyone in America
Homos, Or Everyone in America, now extended through December 11th at the Bank Street Theater, revisits scenes from a relationship with the flickering quality of an old home movie. The audience surrounds the action, sitting on risers framing a narrow playing space that fans out as a hallway offstage in every direction. The night I attended, in a happily sold out small house, I found it apt that the Labyrinth Theater Company had constructed such a labyrinthine set for this wending drama.
Homos depicts a romance between The Academic and The Writer, played by Robin De Jesús and Michael Urie, respectively. We skip through time with them like a glitchy projector, breaking some scenes off in the middle, and replaying them once we have gained more context and are able to see the conversation in a whole new light. The dialogue comes at you in stereo, The Academic and The Writer constantly interrupting each other, talking through each other, and finishing each other’s sentences, in a staccato barrage of half thoughts. The way form mirrored content with this style of interjecting speech and non-linear scenes shifting through time deeply satisfied the theater purist in me.
Homos is a history play, operating on both personal and political levels, and fragmentation is an essential part of its telling. The story takes place in Brooklyn between 2006 and 2011, and there are numerous references to current events throughout, such as Eliot Spitzer’s gay marriage bill and Obama declaring D.O.M.A. unconstitutional. Mentions of early social media tickled the crowd’s communal memory as well, with discussion of Friendster and MySpace.
Moreover, this story plays with memory in a way that is familiar. Just as political discourse weaves through everyone’s personal histories, like knowing where you were on 9/11 or when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, we also all revisit our important memories in snippets, sometimes playing the whole scene, sometimes stopping the tape in our heads before it goes sour. Homos allows the audience to peel into the memory bank of this relationship, and string those memories together for ourselves. Just as everyone’s memory is subjective, although both The Academic and The Writer are equal players in this relationship, our perspective tends to rely on The Writer’s narration as we follow his arc. The Academic, in fact, objects to The Writer’s use of real life events in his fictional stories. I couldn’t help but wonder if playwright Jordan Seavey’s personal memories have provided fodder for this play, perhaps steering the audience’s perspective to align with his own version of events.
Regardless, both the script and the characters are complicit in this fictional manipulation of historical truth and reality, dependent upon perspective. In one fight, The Academic says, “Are you going to make me the bad guy?” and The Writer replies, “Of course not, we’re both the bad guys.” De Jesús and Urie are perfectly in sync, and execute the dark poetry of Seavey’s script in a way that calls to mind Sarah Kane’s Crave. They take turns being vulnerable and wrong, buoying and protecting each other. Conversations like these are both strikingly familiar and voyeuristically intimate. The two do not kiss until a good hour and change into the play and by the time they finally, finally do, it’s like any and every first kiss, the moment you’ve been waiting for and still just fleeting lips locked on lips.
Like the rest of the action, the climax of the play is dispersed throughout, both alleviating its affect and imbuing the rest of the scenes with dramatic suspense. One of the principal characters is the victim of a hate crime, and I was relieved that this unfortunate reality of homosexual life in America was treated with the same weight (and humor) as the rest of the scenes. In the same way that the couple bickers over internalized oppression, gay misogyny, the value of gay marriage, putting pressure on public figures to come out, objectification, and threesomes, the hate crime is folded into the fabric of their relationship. Seavey shoulders the authorial responsibility of including such a graphic, violent incident in an otherwise quotidian play by depicting the human consequences of it, the raw emotions and imperfect processing, rather than framing it as an isolated, impenetrable incident, beyond theatrical exposition.
In doing so, the audience stays present and sympathetic with the actors, relating to their story in the universal terms of love. When a loud (scripted) off-stage crash breaks one of The Academic’s reveries, the whole audience jumps with him. The Academic’s concluding analysis, “They’re afraid of anything different from them or of what they see in me that maybe they see in themselves” is disarmingly simple. With his words ringing in our ears, we get one last look at this pair before we file them away into our own memory banks. And who knows when we’ll return to their story, in reexamining our own?