Theater Review: HOMOS, OR EVERYONE IN AMERICA (Pride Films and Plays at the Pride Arts Center)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 6, 2018

in Theater-Chicago

TRAPPED IN A DREARY DRAMEDY

There’s a tender scene at the start of HOMOS, OR EVERYONE IN AMERICA (a perversely paradoxical title) that wants to convince us that Jordan Seavey’s lads really are lovers. Brooklyn’s streetlights are dark from a power failure, so one guy comforts the other by playing some vinyl Vivaldi and holding him close. The scene, now a memory, is also referenced at the end as the couple attempt a second chance.

Unfortunately, everything in the 100 minutes between calls into question the emotionally unearned bookends of a happy start and hopeful ending. Chronicling New York’s gay scene and lavender politics between 2006 and 2011, this 2016 drama, now in a forceful Chicago premiere from Pride Films & Plays, maintains the tautology that “Love is love” and “Never say never.” But, despite persuasive casting and devoted performances, what we see is something else.

Generically named, our once and future boyfriends are The Academic (Nelson Rodriguez), a self-absorbed, meta-theatrical devote of “Media Studies” whose categorical thinking discourages emotional excess, and The Writer (Niko Kourtis), a hard-drinking scribbler of sensational fiction, a Larry Kramer-style firebrand who’s not afraid to be politically incorrect, especially about his Jewish heritage. The former, who believes that coming out is not a choice but a situation, also has a recreational liaison with another writer (Jordan Dell Harris). This character exists mainly to stir up the inevitable issue of monogamy-versus-monotony.

Given the “art-vs.-science” polarities at play here, A and W’s five-year roller-coaster relationship is far from an action painting of caring and commitment. The latest boys in Mart Crowley’s “band,” these princes of the city kvetch, snipe, and sneer, their ideological squabbling fought with Achilles-heel ferocity. Along a long way, the audience endures an exhausting political/cultural check-list of New York neuroses (including footnotes on Mayors Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg, the advent of same-sex marriage, and neighborhoods like Williamsburg). Seavey’s script works overtime to get dated.

Like pinballs for their playwright, left-brained A and right-brained W careen from one editorial plot point to another. Sadly sensitive souls caught in a claustrophobic snakepit, they lurch from one hair-trigger argument to the next distinction without a difference. Detonating its mental minefields, the manufactured mayhem of Seavey’s ever-interrupted dialogue pushes buttons, right and wrong: The audience dwindles from spectators to voyeurs to collateral damage.

Near the end a vicious assault against The Academic threatens to sober up Seavey’s slick-to-glib byplay. But, as if auditioning for beatitude, the victim admits he cares about his oppressors, teenagers who rearranged his face after asking him if he was a man or a woman. (Say what?) Here’s also where Jessica Vann gets utterly wasted: In a preposterous scene she plays an aroma therapist who thinks the right scent can soothe the pain of a hate crime. Trivializing terror won’t wash.

What’s most maddening about this one-act is Seavey’s arrogantly inclusive title: Far from emblematic of everyday, garden-variety “HOMOS,” let alone “EVERYONE IN AMERICA” (notice the Trump-like caps), these drama queens are strategically specific. Hardly Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” they’re trendy Gothamites placed under a merciless microscope.

None of which detracts from the wonderful work of four well-to-overwrought performers, athletically hurdling the contrived obstacles Seavey hurls their way. No question, Rodriguez, Kourtis, Harris and Vann are expertly engineered by prolific director Derek Van Barham for impact, not enlightenment. Such is their show.

photos by Austin D. Oie Photography

HOMOS, OR EVERYONE IN AMERICA
Pride Films and Plays
The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3:30
ends on September 30, 2018
for tickets, call 773.857.0222 or visit Pride Films and Plays

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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