If you take a lot of “Love, Valour, Compassion!”, roll it with some of the fluidity of “La Ronde” add some of the self loathing of “Boys in the Band”, mix in a little bit of racy confessional of “Party” and cook it in a time line that resembles “Merrily We Roll Along” and you have About Face Theatre's World premier of Philip Dawkins “THE HOMOSEXUALS” which opened at the The Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater last night.
About Face Theatre concludes it's 15th anniversary season and kicks-off GLBTQ Pride Month with the world premiere of THE HOMOSEXUALS” by Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins, directed with loving care and a strong sense of focus by AFT Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar and features a talented cast that can turn from heartbreak to laughs in the blink of an eye.
The play starts out very much like Stephen Sondheim's “Merrily We Roll Along” at the end of a short relationship between Evan and Peter. Evan is breaking up the romantic aspect of the relationship he has with Peter in hopes of finally being able to go at it alone and wanting to be friends instead. The play then follows a time line in reverse with Evan and his relationships within a circle of friends that by the end of the play shows us his first encounter with the people that will play an important part of his life.
The play captures in an honest way the thin line between friendship, and love and how those in the gay community can sometimes blur those lines in search of the hopes that everyone looking for love has or will settle for in life. It also shows by staying in those lines can destroy the foundation of those very relationships that you spend time cultivating in search of selfish love.
Earlier in the day I had caught one of the final showings of the film version of Stephen Sondheim's “Company” and again noticed the similarities between THE HOMOSEXUALS and Company in the sense that both shows are about one man on the outside looking in with his highly varied lot of friends. However in Company we are presented with Bobby a character that is all charisma and charm who bounces from one zany couple to another all the while seeming the same yet never losing what his friends obviously see in him.
In THE HOMOSEXUALS we are left with Evan who appeared to be the least interesting person in his circle of friends. It's a hard trick to pull off in theater or anywhere else, to show a character's warts before you can show what makes them endearing. I felt Patrick Andrew’s Evan tried as hard as he could but in a role that seems to be tossed from one scene to another came across as being whatever he needed to be for that particular scene and made it very hard to get emotionally invested in his character when things are presented in reverse.
The ensemble is filled with actors who mine the rich complexities of the script and bring a fluidity to the piece when their roles are mostly required to be just in scenes. As Peter Scott Bradley pulls out the full force of battered show campy without sacrificing any of the level of pathos he could have easily done, Stephen Cone's portrayal of Michael, one of the few in this group who could only be called friend hits with devastation as it also rings home all too honestly. As the lone female in the group Tam Elizabeth Ledo's not only owns the stage but appears to still be on it far after her scene has come and gone. Ms. Ledo is a force of nature particularly in her rapid fire take down of Evan's internal homophobia. While Scott Bradley, Eddie Diaz, and John Francisco have the least fleshed out character scenes they all do well connecting the dots within those scenes to bring out what makes Evan the person he is today one just wishes those lines for those actors gave them a little more strength to play off of.
Once the moving back in time structure was established it wasn't difficult to follow along and in many instances for the cast played well in scene structure and dramatic arc unlike say Merrily were the device lessens the power of the piece this actually helped it grow.
There are so many things in THE HOMOSEXUALS that are wonderful and leave you with a warm feeling of being at a party with a group of people that you have known forever, people that can make you laugh and cry and feel in a few moments and feel like a family that you might never have had . If only we could feel the same way about the center of the family that we we do with its surroundings.
THE HOMOSEXUALS plays June 11 though July 24, 2011 at The Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at www.aboutfacetheatre.com or (773) 871-3000.