The week in which we have seen the sky fill with the flaming debris of Milo Yiannopoulos’s career is a good week for the opening of Declan Greene’s The Homosexuals, or Faggots, a play that explicitly (pun intended) takes all those questions of free speech, offensiveness, privileged speaking positions, and the like, and turns them into farce a la Sardou via Joe Orton.
After all, the new censoriousness isn’t actually the chilling thing it is accused of being, but in fact is a god-send for the bolder kind of comedian, if not the baser form of attention-whore: it simply provides new taboos to flirt with and break. But it also provides more specific stimulants for the writer of farce. Just as old fashioned middle-class respectability was something the characters of old-fashioned farce needed to protect at all costs, the fear of being outed, not as an adulterer or a bigamist or some other kind of double-dealer, but as a bigot, a racist/sexist/transphobe, is the fear that motivates and keeps the stakes high for Greene’s characters.
The gags draw deep at the well of vicious queen bitchery.
Nor is this the only opportunity identity politics offers the farceur. If identity is so important, then so are imposture and the fear of another kind of exposure: identities can be falsely assumed and discarded for the needs of the moment, they can be pulled on a whim out of a dress-up box, and they can also be mistaken in a very trad kind of way.
All of which makes rich pickings for The Homosexuals. The titulars are Warren and Kim, white, well off, married, Darlinghurst. Warren (Simon Burke) owns a successful website, The Daily Bulge, which is on the verge of bigger things, all set to expand, fnar fnar; Kim (Simon Corfield) teaches in a university gender studies department. In the prologue they tell a story about how traumatised they were to find an old English dish — liver meatballs — with the name of “faggots” on the menu at a local pub, and how, in a victory for righteousness that will come back to haunt them, they took steps to make sure no-one need ever be offended by this culinary outrage again. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel entitled to offend others, though.
There is, as the saying goes, something to annoy almost everyone.
The main action of the play takes place on Mardi Gras night, and juggles its characters in a highly traditional manner. There is Lucacz (Lincoln Younes), the hunky twink destined to end up in his underpants, Bae Bae (Mama Alto),the fierce trans activist who, as Kim points out, is so keen to take offence that she takes offence at your attempts not to be offensive, Pam (also Mama Alto), the ex-sous chef and street junkie, and Diana (Genevieve Lemon), Warren and Kim’s old friend who is determined to call herself a trannie no matter what.
With manic dispatch the characters are shunted on and off stage, pushed into cupboards and under furniture, lied to and about; making Kim an academic also allows for send-ups of the straight-white-CIS-gender-intersectional-la-la-la jargon and names like bell hooks and Kimberle Crenshaw are bamboozlingly dropped. The fact that the boys are planning to go to a Politically Incorrect party allows the characters to parade about in a series of costumes that run the obnoxious gamut from Caitlin Jenner to Hiroshima Geisha: the dress up box also runs to the macho drag of Hot Cop and Smokin’ Tradie.
Even though most of the play’s animus is directed at privileged male gays it swings in every direction.
There is, as the saying goes, something to annoy almost everyone: The Homosexuals fails to observe the rule, sensibly explained by Clementine Ford, that good comedy doesn’t punch down. Even though most of the play’s animus is directed at privileged male gays, and Diana gets some serious lines about free and harmful speech at the very end, it swings in every direction.
Greene mostly manages to keep the whizzing plot mechanisms from crunching their gears, though there is the odd moment where the contrivance shows through too nakedly, crossing over from the kinds of implausibility an audience will happily accept to the too-too silly. The gags themselves draw deep at the well of vicious queen bitchery, such a great resource for comedy and something to be protected from the triggered-happy. Not even David Mamet does insults as well as a pissy fag.
Under Lee Lewis’s direction the tone is well-judged, as broad and raucous as it should be but not crushingly so. Some of the timing struck me as a bit ragged at moments: ideally there would be pin-point accuracy and precision, and some of the lines get lost in the raised and door-slamming. But mostly it’s fine, and the cast take to Greene’s provocations with much glee.
Burke and Corfield make a good comic pair — Burke the guilty, double-dealing husband, Corfield the whiny gay-man-baby/husband, Genevieve Lemon manages not to be defeated by her role as the voice of sanity, Lincoln Younes is appropriately dopey, and Mama Alto’s double turn (self-righteous, self-assured celebrity campaigner/ druggy grifter) is something of a delight.
Photo by Brett Boardman