I normally write reviews for the Chicago Theater Beat (formerly the Chicago Theater Blog). Because I can’t see a play without deconstructing it, I felt compelled to write my own review of Philip Dawkins’ new play The Homosexuals, which I saw last night.
I had heard all the glowing reviews. My friends had all said, “You got to see this play!” Everyone sold it to me as The Boys in the Band but without all that self-loathing. They lied. This is exactly like The Boys in the Band, except the self-loathing (and more accurately self-sabotage) rarely gets called out into the open. Instead, the pain that underlies each character’s action is masked by a strangely homogenous catty humor that is quirky, Oscar Wildeish and disingenuous.
I’m not saying this is a bad play. It’s just incredibly depressing. And judging the audience’s reaction and many of the reviews by the critics, I’m one of the only people that sees this play that way. So maybe I’m a stick in the mud. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of that. Or maybe sometimes when the critical mirror is held up to society, society is like a cat and fails to recognize its own reflection.
The play is told in reverse chronology over a span of a decade. We follow a young man named Evan as he tears through his friend group, often confusing sex for companionship. Through two-person vignettes, we are introduced to the zany and motley-to-the-point-of-unbelievable group of messy friends. There’s the musical theater queen, the sexy POZ Brit, the nebbish nerd, the wine-crazed fag hag, the tortured artist and the first love.
Scenes tend to drag on too long, and often they follow a fairly stagnant pattern. Evan and the character reference some things that help tie the larger arc of the play together, rooting it in the chronology (which can sometimes make for some clunky exposition). They then explore their relationship through witty repartee. Then usually a character will go off on some long drawn out tangent that does a lot to build the character but adds little to the relationship between him and Evan (e.g., Michael’s naked story and the fag hag’s talk about inner-city school children). And then we loop back around and bring it back to the relationship to close out the scene.
Dawkins is a talented writer. I’d recommend cutting down some of these scenes, especially the tangents. The script just gives too much one-sided focus to the supporting characters without really fleshing Evan out. Often I felt like Evan was just there so that the supporting character wasn’t left to talk to an empty room. I also think the wittiness, although often clever, causes the characters to become too transparent. They all eerily have the same “voice.” After a while, it’s a little bit like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and you wonder if some exceptionally quick-minded catty alien didn’t inhabit each friend. The one character that stood out from this was Michael, who is by far the strongest and most grounded character in the play. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most other reviews give high praise to this character as well.)
What I think upsets me about this play is that it’s incredibly tragic, yet it’s sold as a feel-good YaYa Sisterhood thing for gay men. The play’s men (and one woman) are all damaged goods. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In a way, we all are damaged goods. But it is their failure to recognize it that is so much of a damn downer. I’ve never seen a play better illustrate that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. Evan is constantly making the same mistake, which is looking for love (and more accurately acceptance and companionship) in all the wrong places. Meanwhile, the fag hag stuffs herself with Oreos and aches for requited love, Michael is ignored when being vulnerable, Brit Marcus has sex with his best friend’s ex. Each scene is a tragedy masked in comedy where we laugh because we see ourselves in these people but fail to recognize that these people are also miserable.
The acting is compelling. The man who plays Michael is outstanding, and Patrick as Evan is a good everyman. The scene changes were my favorite part, as each flashback is punctuated with a song from that year and some nice in-time stage setting.
The Homosexuals is a tragic comedy of the highest degree. It’s about a bunch of lonely people that seem destined to be terminally lonely. And yet, rather than really confronting the cause of their loneliness, they are more apt to just make jokes to laugh the pain away. It’s human. So it’s relatable. I just wish less people could relate to it.