written by Ken Urban
directed by Alan Quismorio
San Francisco, CA
at Theatre Rhinoceros
I have stared at the computer screen for too long, trying to come up with a description of A Guide for the Homesick which is as positive-sounding as I feel about the production. I give up.
So, I will join The Rhino itself and other reviewers that make the storyline sound too gay, too implausible, and too simple: it’s a story about two men who pick each other up in a hotel bar. Sprinkle in social concerns about American missionaries invading Africa, unclear gender attraction, and mental illness. Stir and you have the play!
Except that when you’re at the theater you feel no patina of the show being either trite or being good for you. Instead you’re drawn into the personalities, the logical surprises, and surprisingly wonderful production values.
First, Jordan Covington (Teddy/Nicholas) and Ian Brady (Jeremy/Ed) are spectacular young actors. They shift between their two roles flawlessly, and Jordan in particular has a feeling of contained power that he displays at decisive moments. I swear he had tears in his eyes in a scene as Nicholas when 10 seconds previously he was chattering on blithely as Teddy.
Each character plays two characters and action occurs in Africa and Amsterdam. The swapping of identities and locations occurs instantaneously and clearly. Kudos to Director Alan Quismorio and the technical staff that make the changes in lighting and sound at just the right moment with just the right intensity.
The stories of the characters reveal themselves at slowly and with emotional pain which is point of the 90-minute performance. Ken Urban makes us want to know more and more, even when we fear what may happen.
So, another shout-out to Theatre Rhino for its play selection. It’s a gay-themed story that doesn’t have tired campiness or appeal to only the over 65 crowd. This show is serious and set in current times with modern youthful characters.
The final triumph to mention is The Rhino’s overcoming its current small space and making excellent choices in design. The audience sits in two rows of folding chairs about three feet from “the stage”. The stage is just the floor of a room that is a small commercial space. But, I saw the hotel room and the African clinic. The actors and technical staff made it easy for me to believe.
Of course, I would do some things differently. The most notable change I’d make is to the [spoiler alert] sex scene. The Rhino delivers it with on stage nudity — the actors are under the bedding, but their nakedness is pointed. We watch the actors dress the next morning and Jordan has a beautiful bare butt while Ian keeps the covers in front of him while he grabs underwear and puts it on. Instead of stripping under the covers and dressing again, I would have done a simple bedtime black out. I understand the gay demographic of The Rhino’s core audience likes naked men. Still, I felt the in-your-face nudity added nothing and would make me hesitate to recommend the play to some of my friends.
However, the bottom line is that the overall quality of the play, the performances, and the production earns A Guide to the Homesick 5 stars. Go see it, now through March 19th.