by Mike Hoban
A Guide for the Homesick – Written by Ken Urban. Directed by Colman Domingo. Scenic Design by William Boles; Original Music and Sound Design by Lindsay Jones; Costume Design by Kara Harmon; Lighting Design by Russell H. Champa. Presented by Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through Nov. 4.
About a third of the way through A Guide for the Homesick, the outstanding new drama being presented by the Huntington Theatre Company, it becomes apparent that this is not going to be your typical “boy-meets-boy, boy-is-closeted, boy-gets-boy” story. Instead, what we get is an utterly engrossing new work that weaves religiopolitical and mental health issues into a tale of two men (who just met) sharing their guilt and remorse over their potentially life-destroying screw-ups in a place far from home. The play, written by Huntington Playwriting Fellow Ken Urban, features two Boston-born protagonists, and is fittingly receiving its premiere at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion.
It is a dark and stormy night as new acquaintances Teddy and Jeremy burst in from the hotel bar, a bag of beers in hand, to Teddy’s hotel room in Amsterdam. Not to be confused with the Four Seasons, the ceiling has blotchy water/smoke stains on ceiling, the wallpaper is badly faded, and there is no evidence of recent maid service. The men begin by nervously talking and joking, and we learn that Jeremy (Samuel H. Levine), a nerdy Jewish kid from Newton, is returning from a volunteer stint in Uganda as a medical aid, and that Teddy (McKinley Belcher III), an African American guy from Roxbury, works in finance for Citibank (although he has a less-than-flattering moniker for his place of employ). Teddy’s friend Ed, who accompanied him on the trip to Amsterdam and is about to be wed to Margo, has abruptly left, allegedly freaked out over his impending nuptials.
Teddy, who assumes that Jeremy is gay, tries to seduce him. Jeremy is horrified, protesting that he has a girlfriend, but we soon discover that this is not the first time he’s shown up on someone’s gaydar, and a not-so-subtle (but comical) flash of body language by Jeremy informs the audience that his sexual identity may only be a secret to him. Jeremy keeps trying to leave the hotel room, but Teddy pleads with him to stay, insisting that he can’t be alone after he reveals more about Ed’s strange departure. When Jeremy asks, “If this is just a story to try and get me to have sex with you – you’re a pretty good liar,” it looks like we’re headed for a pretty pedestrian coming out story, one that may have had more resonance in the 90’s.
But the play takes on an entirely different dimension when Teddy suddenly morphs into Nicholas, a flamboyantly gay man whom Jeremy befriended at the clinic in Uganda, and playwright Urban begins to fill in the backstory as to how both men ended up here via a series of flashbacks. From this point, the story jumps back and forth between the present, to scenes with Jeremy and Nicholas, to ones with Teddy and a very manic Ed (also played by Levine), who clearly has something more going on than just a case of pre-wedding jitters. Well-intentioned recent actions by both men have backfired horribly on them, and they are left with only obsessive second-guessing and shame, with only each other to turn to – a tall order for what was supposed to be a one-night stand with a stranger.
To reveal any more of the plot risks saying too much, but Urban packs so much mind-blowing drama into the play’s fast-moving 75 minutes that the final hour is about as much as the heart can handle. There are some superfluous moments (such as an unnecessary and somewhat silly scene where Teddy tries to sell Jeremy on coming out to the people in his life hours after his first gay experience), but this is a well-constructed, superbly executed new play, with remarkable performances by Levine and Belcher. Levine effortlessly conveys the burden of the guilt of white privilege (something Teddy calls him on), but is also convincing in his compassion for Nicholas, and as he wrestles with the truth about his sexual identity. He is also tasked with the difficult assignment of believably playing Ed having a manic episode, with which he does a credible job. Belcher’s performance is nothing short of brilliant, not only for his portrayal of the macho Teddy, but for the adroit transformation to Nicholas, who maintains a quiet dignity and acceptance of his challenging romantic life with his married lover Martin, while also imparting spiritual wisdom to the confused Jeremy.
A Guide for the Homesick may be the best new drama I’ve seen in years, so this one is not to be missed. For more info, go to: www.huntingtontheatre.org