Review: The Homosexuals (About Face Theatre)

| June 21, 2011
     
     

Now extended through August 21st!!

Provocative world-premier captures the contemporary homosexual experience with pride and honesty

  
  

The cast of Philip Dawkins' "The Homosexual": Patrick Andrews, Scott Bradley, Elizabeth Ledo, Benjamin Sprunger. Stephen Cone, Eddie Diaz and John Francisco

  
About Face Theatre presents
  
  
The Homosexuals
   
Written by Philip Dawkins
Directed by Bonnie Metzgar
at VG’s Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through July 24 Aug 21  tickets: $28  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I know the Homosexuals. Evan (Patrick Andrews), the fresh-out-of-the-closet country boy just arriving in the big city, Michael (Stephen Cone), the eternal friend and confidant but never lover, Peter (Scott Bradley), the bombastic theater diva, Mark (Eddie Diaz), the heated activist, British Mark (Benjamin Sprunger), the off-limits foreigner, Collin (John Francisco), the heart-breaking true love, and Tam (Elizabeth Ledo), the straight girl that holds her own amongst her gaggle of gays. In each of them I see my closest friends and worst enemies, but more than anything, I see myself. The characters fit certain archetypes, certainly, but playwright Philip Dawkins has fully realized them in a way that makes them more than their respective stereotypes, greatly helped by The Homosexuals fantastic ensemble.

Patrick Andrews and Eddie Diaz - About Face Theatre, "The Homosexuals"Bonnie Metzgar directs a production that will resonate with audiences both homo and hetero, building realistic relationships between friends and lovers that don’t get bogged down in the headier gay issues of the play. Evan serves as the anchor of the production, and the play chronicles key moments in his ten year history with the group of friends that introduced him to the city. Beginning with Evan’s breakup with Peter in 2010, the play moves backwards in time, and Andrews does an impeccable job tracing his character’s emotional growth in reverse. I’m a firm believer that the journey is more important than the destination, and the play’s two-person scene structure allows Dawkins to provide puzzles pieces that are then put together in the cathartic final group scene. Exposition is doled out efficiently without slowing down the pace, and the tidbits of information build up anticipation for Evan’s interactions with each character.

June is the perfect time to open The Homosexuals, as pride serves as the main emotional through-line of the piece. Over the course of ten years, Evan learns to take pride in his sexuality, friends, and self as he adjusts to his new queer life, and over the course of the play we see that pride stripped away. The Evan we see at the end of the play appears to be the same one at the start (plus one lucky baseball cap), but there’s a strength and confidence we see in 2010 Evan that is absent during his first encounter with the group in 2000. Andrews’ ability to convey that shift is what makes him such an extraordinary performer, and when he’s stripped in the transition sequences, there’s a noticeable change that goes beyond his wardrobe. There’s an understanding of the character that is so ingrained it’s nearly instinctual, and the entire cast has similarly created organic characters that are a joy to watch interacting with each other.

Dawkins’ script moves at a rapid pace, but his scenes are long enough that the characters are given ample time to establish their personalities and histories within the group, making each snapshot of a relationship enough to infer the greater details. The production doesn’t shy away from the importance of sex in the cultivation (and destruction) of gay relationships, and the ensemble is fearless when it comes to the more erotic material. Evan and British Mark’s scene quickly escalates into a flurry of sexual activity that comes to a sudden halt, and Andrews and Sprunger’s comfort with each other heightens the scene’s intensity. It can’t be easy to be put into some of those compromising positions in front of a full house, but these performers are able to reach a level of intimacy that makes it easy to forget the room has only two walls instead of four. Intimacy is the wrong word – more like wild, animal lust.

(left to right) Benjamin Sprunger and Patrick Andrews in About Face Theatre’s world premiere production of THE HOMOSEXUALS by Philip Dawkins, directed by Bonnie Metzgar.  Photo by Jonathan L. Green.The strongest scene of the show comes at the end of act one, when Michael watches over a hospital bed-ridden Evan after he has his appendix removed. Michael is the only male character of the show with no sexual relationship with the others, and Cone brings a perfect, awkward energy to the character that is endearing but not quite alluring. When a drugged Evan suggests they show each other their members, a nervous Michael breaks into a monologue about key moments in his sexual development as a child, perhaps to avoid a potential sexual encounter. Michael is a fascinating character that is more concerned with building a family around him rather than finding a romantic partner, and his timidity reveals a fear of losing these friendships by pursuing a sexual relationship.

As the only female in the cast, Elizabeth Ledo represents her sex remarkably, and her sassy Tam brings an outsider’s view to the proceedings as she comments on the mind-boggling relationships that she sees develop among her gay friends. Serving largely as comic relief, Tam’s scene with Evan is one of the most issue-heavy of the play yet also one of the most fun. Discussing race and gender discrimination in the workplace, the deteriorating public school system, and the ideological gap between homosexual generations, Patricks and Ledo have a chemistry that keeps their debate lively and engrossing. Tam’s tendency to lighten the mood with her blunt sense of humor prevents the scene from being weighed down in the serious subject matter, making her a welcome dose of estrogen in the sea of testosterone. Like Michael, Tam is sexually removed from the rest of the group, giving her scene at the start of act two a nice sense of symmetry with the end of act one, a symmetry that continues with Evan’s sexually charged scene with Mark, a dark reflection of his earlier passionate encounter with British Mark.

The Homosexuals is a triumphant success for About Face, a play that tackles important social issues in the context of honest relationships with a cast and creative team perfectly in tune with the rhythm of the script. The problems these characters face are universal, but the ways they approach the solutions are specific and unique to their personalities. Where Dawkins’ script soars the highest, though, is in its depiction of the solidarity between a group of friends through good and bad; a family with a connection deeper than blood.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

(left to right) Elizabeth Ledo and Patrick Andrews in About Face Theatre’s world premiere production of THE HOMOSEXUALS by Philip Dawkins, directed by Bonnie Metzgar.  Photo by Jonathan L. Green.

About Face’s The Homosexuals, currently playing at Victory Garden’s Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), continues through July 24th August 21st, with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm and 9pm, and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets are $28, and can be purchased by phone (773-871-3000) or online at aboutfacetheatre.com.

  

artists

cast

AFT Artistic Associates Patrick Andrews (Evan), Scott Bradley (Peter), Elizabeth Ledo (Tam) and Benjamin Sprunger (British Mark); with Stephen Cone (Michael), Eddie Diaz (Mark) and John Francisco (Colin).

behind the scenes

Philip Dawkins (playwright); Bonnie Metzgar (director); Regina Garcia (sets); David Hyman (costumes); Heather Gilbert (lighting); Sarah Pickett (sound); Dan Stermer (asst. director); Kimberly Miller (stage manager); Jonathan L. Green (photos).

  
  

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Category: 2011 Reviews, About Face Theatre, Now Playing, Oliver Sava, Richard Christiansen Theatre, Victory Gardens, World Premier

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