(l to r) Niko Kourtis and Nelson A. Rodriguez in ‘Homos, or Everyone in America.’
(Photo: Austin D. Oie Photography)
Pride Films and Plays opens a second full season in its home at the Pride Arts Center, with the hilarious, tender and organic romantic comedy, Homos, or Everyone in America. Written by playwright Jordan Seavey, the work premiered in New York City in 2016 and was recognized that same year as a New York Times Critic’s Pick.
Pride Film and Plays Associate Director Derek Van Burham directs the Chicago debut, with the purposefully unnamed lead couple, known only as The Writer and the Academic, played respectively by Niko Kourtis and PFP Artistic Director Nelson A. Rodriguez. In these capable hands, Mr. Seavey’s script comes fully alive, described in press materials as a “fearless, funny, heart-on-its-sleeve examination of the moments that can bring two people together — or pull them apart.”
Playing with traditional, linear, and narrative conventions, Homos leaps back and forth between past, present and everything between to take a look at two young, bookish, Big Apple men falling (and trying to remain) in love as massive cultural shifts swirl around them. Scenes boast Sorkinesque rapid-fire dialogue, impacted by events such as 9/11, President Obama’s 2011 repudiation of the Defense of Marriage Act and rising public consciousness of insidious hate crimes.
The play also shines a light on the heterogeneity of the LGBTQ “community,” despite American culture’s seeming preference for pouring all members into one rainbow-hued bucket. The Academic is presented as the traditionalist: a monogamist conscientious about moving through orderly stages (love, cohabitation, and then marriage) with a desire to live in the “right” neighborhood. Conversely, The Writer abhors convention. Uncertain about committing beyond the moment, eager to smash cisgender norms and vocabulary, besotted with the chaos, noise and mood swings of New York’s creative circle, The Writer exhibits a self-pitying and destructive streak that stands apart from The Academic’s more earnest approach to intimacy.
Dan, frequently described as “sort of strapping” by The Writer and The Academic (played with an “aw, shucks” sincerity by Jordan Dell Harris) enters the couple’s alternating proximity. He is an approachable, sanitized Everyman, a purposefully unthreatening symbol of temptation. In their own ways, both characters succumb to Dan’s allure, projecting their relationship philosophies onto his malleable handsomeness.
For The Writer, Dan is an intriguing cypher for exploring the freedom and limitations of an open relationship. As he relates to The Academic, Dan is a skin and bones metaphor for safety and the welcome confines of committed monogamy. Interestingly, neither doctrine turns out to be wholly authentic or practical, and as the curtain drops on The Writer and The Academic, Dan is all but forgotten. Sugary, uncomplicated fluff discarded in favor of compromise and hard work.
Mr. Kourtis and Mr. Rodriguez are both magnificent. They use every inch of the compact stage to bring the audience on a complex but authentic journey through relationship flashpoints: the first date and kiss, the animal passion of sex with a new love, an inaugural argument, disappointment, frustration, betrayal and eventually, a breakup. However, as mentioned above, the story is not linear. Mr. Seavey’s script time jumps through career milestones, personal growths and failures, which ultimately result in the characters settling into dedicated friendship.
It takes an unspeakable tragedy toward the end of the 100-minute production (no intermission) for The Writer and The Academic to wind up in a more compassionate and enlightened version of the place where they started. A new beginning where both men are psychologically bruised, but less idealistic and rigid, experienced enough to appreciate, even crave each other’s difference. In this way, as the script’s title cleverly suggests, The Writer and the Academic may be “homos.” But in their quests to understand themselves, their place in society and relationship to one another, the men are also “everyone in America.” What begins as a localized and specific tale about two particular men concludes with a universality that reflects and refracts an audience’s collective self-image.
Homos, or Everyone in America
Pride Arts Center
4147 North Broadway, Chicago
Through September 30
Becky Sarwate is an award-winning journalist, theater critic, blogger, and author of Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team (Eckhartz Press). She is a proud Chicago resident, where Becky lives with her husband Bob and their cats, Wendy and Lisa. Check out her collected work at BeckySarwate.com, and follow her on Twitter @BeckySarwate.