Fractured Mirrors of Friendship: “A Guide for the Homesick”

Presented by Huntington Theatre Company
Directed by Colman Domingo
Written by Ken Urban

October 6 thru November 4, 2017
Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Huntington Theatre on Facebook

Reviewed by Bishop C. Knight

(Boston, Massachusetts) Sometimes friends party together, and sometimes friends talk about sex, and sometimes friends will live together.  Some friends from Massachusetts lovingly label each other as fellow Massholes, and there is nothing like the spark of instantaneous friendship when two strangers come from the same homeland.  A Guide for the Homesick is about two Bostonians abroad whose paths converge, who get drunk together, who discuss sex, have sex, and who share a holiday affair that neither will ever forget.

Jeremy (Samuel H. Levine) is a young nerdy white man in the first years of his career as a nurse and, after a structured childhood in a Jewish family, he is distraught, returning to Boston without a plan or any money.  Teddy (McKinley Belcher III) is a very dark-skinned black man, formerly a fraternity bro and now working in finance, a comfortable nine-to-fiver who followed the fast route to financial success.  Because of these complementing differences, and because the men can offer each other guidance, intimacy rapidly develops between them.

Writer Ken Urban’s dialogues were snappy, engaging, contemporary, and hip.  However, from my seat in the audience, I was most mesmerized by the actors’ nonverbal body language, which very expertly revealed the temperature of their shared intimacy. The role of Teddy was played by the handsome actor McKinley Belcher III. He seemed to very easily express Teddy’s desire to romantically connect with Jeremy. Belcher’s tenor voice modulates beautifully down to a velvety timbre to express vulnerability.

Belcher’s performance stuck out to me because he exquisitely presented diversity among Blacks, and I deeply feel it is radically important for mainstream America to recognize the immense diversity within the African diaspora.  To be pedantic, the “African diaspora refers to the communities throughout the world that have resulted by descent from the movement in historic times of peoples from Africa, predominantly to the Americas and among other areas around the globe.”  There are brown women and men all around our globe whose different homelands proffer myriad cultures and lifestyles (from Brazil, Haiti, France, to the United States) illustrating that “a shared complexion does not equate a shared culture.”  

Increasingly I find the term African American suffocating, because so many people I meet — especially White Americans — want me to looooove Africa; want me to yearn to go there in order to feel some completion within my supposedly incomplete soul.  When in actuality, I (and maybe some other quirky brown woman out there) hold much greater interest in getting to Niagara Falls.  A place I’ve never been, and where I would like to visit one day. Yay Canada!  

Where I am going with this rant?  Firstly, don’t foist Africa or African culture on Black Americans because your implicit bias believes that our brown skin makes us less American. Secondly, when Belcher switched between playing a gay Black American frat guy and an endangered gay African man, I saw myself in Belcher’s character Teddy as mirrored against a gay African peer. The feeling tight in my chest translated to “Yes, the same. But not.”  Yes, both of Belcher’s characters were members of the African diaspora. Geographically and culturally they were worlds apart.  

Such refreshing fluidity flowed from A Guide for the Homesick, bucking the audience’s deep-rooted expectations: the male lead characters had sex. One of the lead characters was a classic Masshole Boston boy with dark brown skin. Unpleasant conversations turned out to be cathartic and led to pleasant life changes.  Actor McKinley Belcher III accurately made public something I’ve been privately wishing for many years (if not my entire life). Raised in a family that sees themselves as African-American, I’ve yearned to be seen as a Black American.  Belcher’s performance granted my wish for an hour and a half.

So I watched A Guide for the Homesick half as a social commentary and half as physical theatre.  In fact, there were several directives within the characters’ dialogue. In a heated moment, one man demands “Look at me!”  There is a beat while the other man slowly looks up to make eye contact.  Or, after their night together, one lover suggests “Come back to bed,” and the other slowly returns to their shared cuddle. Movement back to family, between countries, between lovers, around a hotel room, or movement towards where and whom could become one’s home was the crux of this provocative play.

This story sends you back into the world with a whole bunch to contemplate: the international fabric of the African diaspora, notions about sex and masculinity within African culture, medical practices and confidentiality, homophobic legislation, and much more.  I certainly want to contemplate all these things because, once you get past drunken nights together and other fun and games, true friendship is about embracing another human being who is not you and who is different from you, which is a tough practice.

After A Guide for the Homesick I am more informed about African culture and about the experience of youth questioning their sexual orientation.  This play was a romance couched within highly political contexts, and I guarantee you’ll appreciate how the stories unfold before your eyes.  I and my fellow patrons certainly adored Urban’s tragicomedy.  We wrapped up our show with a solid standing ovation.

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