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A decade among gay friends in Manbites Dog's The Homosexuals

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Editor's Note: Manbites Dog has extended the run by a week, through May 25. Playwright Philip Dawkins is flying in from Chicago in honor of the extension; he will participate in a post-show conversation with Manbites Artistic Director Jeff Storer on Friday, May 24.

Local theatergoers are accustomed to works of courage and conscience at Manbites Dog Theater. Its season closer, Philip Dawkins' 2011 drama The Homosexuals, fully qualifies as both.

Dawkins is clearly after big game in this work, which traces the personal development of his central character, Evan (a strong Ryan Brock), over the course of his first decade after moving from Iowa at age 20 to an unnamed Big City. But in analyzing Evan's relationships with lovers (including Thaddaeus Edwards' crisp, HIV-positive British Mark and Chris Burner's nuanced Collin) and friends (Jeffrey Moore's poignant Michael and Amber Wood's robust Tam), Dawkins is also attempting to take some measure of a community's changes in that time.

Perhaps The Homosexuals' greatest service involves the degree to which it raises a series of different gay relationships into the light, at their beginnings, ends and transitions between—and, at times, beyond. Dawkins' writing is muscular, and his ear for dialogue serves him and his characters well. As he skips backward, two years at a time, over the six scenes in The Homosexuals' two acts, his characters deal honestly (and at times bluntly) with elements that make gay relationships unique as well as those they share with all others.

Ethics and sexuality walk hand in hand throughout these scenarios—but their grip is noticeably clenched at times as they strain to avoid coming apart. Thankfully, we don't see idealized figures or stereotypes in this story: Under Jeff Storer's direction, we're left to wonder exactly to what degree Evan has conquered the issues he's brought with him from a homophobic home. Peter, an aging theater director (Derrick Ivey), grapples with fears of growing old alone, while his partner, Mark (a gratifyingly good Gregor McElvogue), plies his rather ruthless brand of pragmatism, with varying results.

Structurally, Dawkins relies a bit too much on dyads; it's no spoiler to reveal that, in the play's six scenes, the entire community is seen on stage only twice. More appearances by them might have given us an even greater sense of the broader cultural shifts taking place between 2000 and 2010. Still, what The Homosexuals achieves in its collection of close-ups brings the inner workings of theatrically underrepresented relationships into greater visibility.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Life underground."

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