It is quite the week for The Homosexuals, or Faggotts, to open at the Malthouse Theatre, what with Milo Yiannopolous self-combusting and Trump’s withdrawal of federal protection for transgender students. And so, it was a unified, informed crowd which confronted Declan Greene’s latest offering – a pitch-perfect farce exploring identity politics to the nth degree, with jokes to bait just about everyone.
The Homosexuals is one of the most tightly-written new plays I have seen in years, and one which matches form and content beautifully. The action takes place on the night of Mardi Gras, where Warren (Simon Burke) and Kim (Simon Corfield) – a ‘happily’ ‘married’ rich, white, gay couple – confront the ins and outs of their own gender and sexual identities, and that of those around them. Along for the ride is Warren and Kim’s trans friend Diana (Genevieve Lemon), the twink Lucacz (Lincoln Younes) whom Warren spends the evening trying to bed, transgender activist Bae Bae (Mama Alto) – who is offended by everyone – and ex-sous chef and thief Pam (also Mama Alto).
This is a play about identity politics which draws its energy from a hilarious series of mistaken identities and characters hiding from one another. Every second line is a punchline, with audience members given barely any time to recover from one zinger before the next one is served up in their laps. It is this ripping pace which saves the show from falling into obscure ridiculousness: the politics is so well-crafted within the slapstick and punchlines that it never feels forced or self-conscious.
The performances elevate the script, with Burke and Corfield a well-matched comedic pair: Warren is the double-dipping, conniving husband and Kim the whining baby. Mama Alto’s double turn as Pam and Bae Bae runs the full gamut from down-and-out street junkie to self-important glamazon, each character commenting on each other through Mama Alto’s diverse performance. Genevieve Lemon is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking as Diana, a drag-queen trans woman who swings from comedy to pathos with a devastating speech at the end of the play, in which she recalls all the gay men she knew who died from AIDS. Younes brings yet another energy onto the stage as the young, strapping model destined to end up ridiculed in his undies. The cast each enshrine their characters with the respect they deserve, yet are prepared to make fools of themselves with a generosity and trust rarely seen between cast members.
Lee Lewis’ direction ensures that the play never gets out of hand – the actors are always in control of the material, and never the other way round, providing us with a rich and nuanced tapestry of gender and sexual identities, without ever feeling as though politics is being rammed down our throat. The comedy is in part due to the set and costume, wonderfully designed by Marg Howell to provide maximum slapstick impact, while faithfully adhering to (and more than slightly mocking) the lifestyles of the privileged Darlinghust-dwelling homosexuals around which the action is centred.
The Homosexuals is somehow simultaneously a political slap in the face and nothing more than a hilarious night out. It is a play that trusts and challenges its audience, forcing us to take the politics off the stage with our own hands, and work out where we stand in response to this impeccable farce.