As soon as the central characters, abstractly identified only as the Writer and the Academic, begin their conversational interaction, it’s clear that we are firmly in the New York intellectual vernacular of a Tony Kushner (Angels in America) or Larry Kramer (The Normal Heart). Dialogue is hyper-articulate and obsessively, sensationally self-absorbed and theoretical-the couple speak at, through and over each other in a heat of verbiage. Credit actors Tyrone Huntley and Harry McIntyre for locating the human beings inside the loquacious and fulsome spillage of words, often suggesting the torrent of combative words as protective shields from having to stand naked and vulnerable in front of one another, deflecting the candid glare of simple honesty.
Something truthful in the relationship, perhaps what is revealed in bodily behaviour and glance, speaks more directly than the dazzlingly distracting and disorienting wordplay. By the closing moments of this one hour and forty-five minute production (without interval) detailing five fraught years in the relationship between these two men, from initial meeting to flowering connection to deep intimacy to eventual break-up, and finally tender reconciliation, there exists a real potent poignancy in the encounters (and McIntyre delivers a real emotional belter on the sales floor of a Lush shop, the ample bath bombs of which occupy three wooden units on stage, contributing a cloyingly heady scent to the room).
The characters enact a fragmented, constantly time-shifting structural exploration of the relationship, key moments circulating, deepening as more information and history is accrued and revealed, as affairs both public and personal rage around them (many of which are catalyst for major arguments-race, politics, gentrification, media studies, art, gay rights, drugs, sexual experimentation). The device of “rewinding” backwards and forwards, the actors shifting like tape loops, is not always the sharpest transitional choice. The audience is sat in the round, in very close proximity to the performers (occasionally, one of the characters may suddenly occupy space right next to you), for a proper intimate connection to this particularly insular pairing.
Action takes place on a stretch of sand, a charged metaphor for the uneven and slippery surface upon which the relationship is found, the warp and weave of personal anxiety and paranoia continually destabilising the concrete, the solid. Apparently, and with brazen-at times unwieldy-ambition, playwright Jordan Seavey seems to want to declare his work as a bold, big statement of the American character, encompassing the pressures and stresses upon love and life-cultural, social, political-of the last few decades, a responsibility that at times is unfair to ask of this brief and small-scaled piece.
But he must be admired for the effort, and for the amount of time he draws close to his intentions, robust and arresting ideas spinning out continuously line after line. Yet crucially, the performers tame the dialogue, preventing it from freezing over into the purely analytical. Homos, or Everyone in America continues through 1 September