With Friends Like These

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As a bona-fide, pink-union-card-emblazoned, goldstar gay, you’d think I would be rushing breathlessly to About Face Theatre’s world premiere of Philip Dawkins’ The Homosexuals.  Well, I did sashay with unaccustomed speed to Victory Gardens, where it was playing, over the weekend, but as I told my friend Fab Jason, I was a little wary about the whole business after reading a summary description of the play on the theater’s website.   The Homosexuals sounded like a whole lot of Love! Valour! Compassion! mixed in with some Boys In The Band and drizzled with a dash of Queer As Folk repurposed for the millennial generation.  In short the play could be a mishmash of every single circle of gays movie, TV show, or play that we’ve seen over the past decade.  Is there something new or fresh that Dawkins would say about the gay experience in the 21st century?  Will it talk about what the words “gay” or “homosexual” or “queer” mean right now?  And how the definitions and constructs have evolved through the years?  I think for the most part The Homosexuals is funny, poignant, captivating, delightfully energizing, a packs-little-punch summer diversion, which is terrific.  But, despite the play’s attempt to survey some of the key themes that have and continue to confront the community over the past decade, I feel that, as a homosexual, the play is somewhat of a missed opportunity.

Dawkins has structured The Homosexuals as a series of flashbacks beginning in 2010 and ending in 2000, when early twentysomething Evan arrives in Chicago fresh from coming out in Iowa.  Each episode portrays a specific incident between Evan and one of his friends, lovers, friends who become lovers, friends with benefits, or friends who can only be friends (that would be the chick and the geek).  Dawkins writes these scenes vibrantly, with crisp, uncluttered dialogue that impressively balances sharp wit, bawdy hilarity, and heartfelt emotion.  These characters behave and talk like some of my friends and I in certain situations (and yes, that whole line about sweating like a little person engaged in a very specific sexual act is something Fab Jason would say, ha!).  So this natural, relatable quality in the writing is pretty impressive.  I also like the fact that Dawkins touches around much of the top of mind concerns that our community has had over the years: adolescent bullying, coming out at work, living with and loving a HIV+ partner, same-sex marriage, the increasing divergence in the behavior and outlook of the “millennial” (20s-early 30s) gays and the rest of the gay community.  But the episodes are just that, episodes, and the characters, other than Evan, come across as stock (the activist, the flaming queer, the asexual nerd who works in a candy store, the fag hag, the hot gay guy).  The themes are touched on but not fully explored, and I really wished Dawkins got in there, dirty fingernails and all, and talked more profoundly and more clearly about gay marriage, or the millennial gay vs. 80s gay question, for example.  The timeboxing of the themes are also a little misleading – for example, the gay marriage theme is discussed in the episode set in 2004, and there have been tremendous leaps, as we all know, with the socio-cultural-political dialogue around it since then.  Also, Evan, despite the mesmerizing efforts of the terrific Patrick Andrews, is a cipher.  Who is he?  What are his convictions?  How does he define himself?  One thing I didn’t get a good sense of is why Evan kept on dating within the friendly gene pool. I mean Chicago has gazillions of gay and gayish men, a bounty of diversity, so he wouldn’t have had a problem to bring other people into his life. Dawkins gives us tantalizing clues here and there, but we don’t really get a true, credible sense of Evan.

Andrews is excellent as always, but I really think the writing bogs him down.  Elizabeth Ledo, one of my favorite actors in the city, is superb once again as the deliciously acerbic, pragmatic, and endearingly self-aware fag hag Tam.  But Stephen Cone as the candy store geek Michael is the standout in a beautifully-rendered, impressively inhabited performance.  He is funny, cuddly, warm, so you totally believe that this circle of bitchy, ambitious, driven divas will be drawn to him despite the fact that, well, he works in a candy store, with no other seeming purpose or ambition in life.  But Cone’s Michael, sad, seething, regretful, humiliated, also delivers some of Dawkins’ best, sharpest, gut wrenching, heart-stabbing writing as he recalls his experiences with childhood bullying. 

The rest of the cast, one of the most good-looking, sexiest ensembles in town right now, deliver good work.  About Face Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar displays, as always, a confident, astute directorial hand.  I love the quick pace of the scene transitions (and Regina Garcia’s fluid, well-conceived set design is a critical element in that), but I’m not sure that there had to be an intermission.  If there is one show that would have benefited from not having a bathroom break (and I’m not usually supportive of not having intermissions in the theater), it’s The Homosexuals. It’s totally worthwhile to see this production; I just wished Dawkins gave us more than the superficial, which is, unfortunately, a criticism the gay community often has to deflect.

The Homosexuals is at the Richard Christiansen Theater, Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., until July 24.

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