By Donna Herman
The Labyrinth Theater Company is presenting a new play by Jordan Seavey at The Bank Street Theater “Homos, Or Everyone in America.” As the title suggests, more than a boy meets boy story, it’s a universal love story for our culture and times. Hey, if it’s two humans in a relationship, it’s SSDD.
The playing space at the Bank Street Theater is tiny. Seating is around all four walls, leaving a narrow runway left for as a stage of sorts. I was dubious about how well it was going to work, but I needn’t have worried. Because as it turns out, the space and the play are a match made in heaven. The script specifies “the space is probably empty, or mostly so, think ‘intimate’ – it’s ok if the actors and the audience are kind of in each other’s laps, and probably few or no props.” Bingo. No set at all, and one prop at the end. The audience and actors are so close, all the generals would have yelled “fire” at Bunker Hill.
Although there are four characters in the script, it’s essentially a two-character play. Which is what it should probably be. The script needs does need some editing. The main characters are The Academic (Robin De Jesus) and The Writer (Michael Urie). Even if they don’t seem like a match made in heaven, they are quite a pair, and enough to tell the story on their own.
Seavey does a magnificent job of creating two whole, rounded, individuals, using sparse, overlapping dialog. And both Urie and De Jesus do a masterful job of lifting what reads like stark verse off the page. Together, they imbue it with blood-boiling, pulse-pounding life. No lesser actors could undertake these roles. And Mike Donohue’s crisp direction makes the pause-less vignettes practically fly by.
The play jumps back and forth from 2006 to 2011, in a fast-paced flurry of scenes that illuminate their relationship. And sometimes we return multiple times to different parts of the same event. Starting with a glimpse of their first date in a wine bar where The Writer, agonizingly, cannot decide whether to order white or red. Neither of them says anything except the words “red,” “white,” “sorry”, “yes,” “no” and “ummm.” Which is very funny, horribly embarrassing, and Urie makes every moment absolutely believable.
Seavey is very purposeful in layering the seemingly random scenes. Because of it we are forced to wait for understanding on a lot of different levels. We get intriguing glimpses of emotional and physical events that we can’t quite identify. Wait, what? In one scene they’re flirting, the next they’re fighting. In one scene The Writer seems indifferent and the Academic clingy. But in the next scene the Academic mentions a new friend and The Writer is instantly jealous. In one scene halfway through, they are clearly breaking up. In another brief scene The Writer and Dan (Aaron Costa Ganis), The Academic’s new friend, are reading a menacing sounding medical report.
Because of the structure of the play, we are forced to absorb and feel, and importantly, ultimately, identify before judging. Helping us along, the juxtapositioning of scenes from first love to mature relationship underscores for us what’s at stake. By reminding us periodically of the blush of first love, we get an emotional investment in the unfolding relationship that we wouldn’t have otherwise received.
As the title “Homos, Or Everyone in America” suggests, Seavey has broader ambitions than just preaching to the choir. He wants to give us an “everyperson” relationship in the context of the urban gay man’s culture. And as the title also suggest, he’s not going to pull his punches.
But what made me uncomfortable was not the thought of two men together (kinda hot), or the explicit language (so what), or the barbed humor directed at everyone from Park Slope mothers to Hasidic landlords to blowhard Academics delivered for shock value.
What did making me uncomfortable was how willing these two people were to being open and vulnerable to each other to make their relationship work. Is that the secret? Is that what’s required by, well, me? A straight white woman? Now that’s frightening.
“Homos, Or Everyone in America” by Jordan Seavey, Directed by Mike Donohue
Scenic design by Dane Laffrey; costume design by Jessica Pabst; lighting design by Scott Zielinski; original composition and sound by Daniel Kluger; sound design by Loree Kinney; casting by Telsey + Company; production stage manager, Hannah Woodward; assistant stage manager, Lilly Perlmutter; production manager, Grace Richardson. Bank Street Theater, 155 Bank Street, Through November 27th. Tickets: Homos Tickets