Meet Evan (Ryan Brock), the central character in “The Homosexuals,” directed by Jeff Storer and playing now at Manbites Dog Theater Company. Evan is a fresh-out-of-the closet twenty year old kid who doesn’t know himself very well. Actually, that’s not quite right. See, Philip Dawkins’ cleverly constructed play first introduces Evan at the age of thirty and then moves backwards, showing glimpses of the relationships and friendships (aren’t they kind of the same thing?) that turn him into his current self.
The play’s first scene (of six) focuses on Evan’s relationship with Peter (Derrick Ivey), his fabulously flamboyant, theatre-obsessed partner whom he is about to break up with. The production then moves backward in two year increments, showing Evan’s relationships with British Mark (Thaddeus Edwards), sweet Michael (Jeffrey Moore), self-proclaimed “fag hag” Tam (Amber Wood), dark and angry Mark (Gregor McElvogue), and weight-loss enthusiast Collin (Chris Burner).
The story, from beginning to end, is beautifully written and perfectly structured. Almost every line is weighted with meaning, yet the show does not feel heavy. In fact, it moves along quite briskly, and serious issues, such as Peter’s testicular cancer and British Mark’s HIV positive status, are handled subtly. Subtlety is one of Dawkins’ strongest skills; realistic dialogue is yet another; and then there’s his ability to move deftly from comedy to sad poignancy. While this skill is brilliantly exhibited in several spots, it is particularly noticeable in the scene focused on Michael and Evan. Moore, as Michael, relates a comedic tale of his first attraction to another male and, just when the humor is at its crescendo, it fades to reveal a bitter recollection of Michael’s first shunning as a homosexual.
Storer’s intriguing staging choices serve as the perfect backdrop for Dawkins’ flawlessly written story. The director chooses to leave the actors onstage, even when they are not directly involved in the scene. They sit, watch, and occasionally laugh or smile, serving as a reflection of the audience and as a reminder of the sometimes silent but always prevalent role these characters play in Evan’s life.
The story, at is heart, is about Evan’s search—and everyone’s search—for identity and about the people and the series of relationships that play a part in constructing that identity. It’s also about the families we create and what it means to be a friend. Though Evan’s relationship with each of the characters changes and evolves over time, closeness and genuine love remain, so that at the end, the audience has witnessed not just the construction and birth of a person but the realization of a family.
Obviously, a production such as this relies on a cast with strong chemistry, and this cast has it in droves. Another thing it has in droves is talent. There is not a weak spot in the line-up. In fact, there is no weak spot in the production as a whole; everything from the gentle lighting to the choice of music during scene transitions is perfect. Triangle audiences are incredibly lucky to have this show, in its North Carolina premiere and in only its second-ever production, available for viewing. Prepare to be laugh, to be moved and to find the friends you wish you had.