Early on in Jordan Seavey’s play, Homos, Or Everyone In America, the play’s protagonists, The Writer and The Academic, are verbally sparring about the semantics of identifying as a writer. “i don’t know what makes a / a writer a writer / it’s very formal.” I met Seavey at the Bank Street Theater for a brief tour of the play’s incredible, intimate set. Using an unorthodox playing space incorporating a carpeted runway about six feet wide, with several offshoots into the wings, and unpainted wooden risers for both actor and audience, the space’s set-up doesn’t immediately seem functional – there are pillars blocking sightlines and the ceiling is too low for large lighting units. “We use these pillars a lot for what we call ‘gay leaning,’ or ‘gleaning,’” he said of the pillars. With the tour finished, we set out for The Elk, a bright little hidden gem of a café on Charles Street.
As we sat down, I explained to him that I was fascinated by the “what makes a writer a writer” line, because as a playwright myself, I can’t figure out what makes me a writer. We drank iced coffee, his black and mine light and sweet, and started to unpack a bit of the history of the play and of Jordan’s career as a writer.
Inspired by several romantic relationships of Seavey’s and by a hate crime that victimized someone with whom he is close, Homos was born five years ago. After graduating from the 2009-2010 Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater, Jordan spent the summer of 2011 at the Orchard Project, in Hunter, a small ski town in upstate New York (Orchard has since moved its summer residency to Saratoga Springs). After finishing the first draft of the play in four days, he worked with David Chapman, the Orchard Project’s director-in-residence who ran the Core Company of artists working there for the summer, to develop the play for the next two years. With the assistance of Lee Sunday Evans (“honestly a genius,” according to Seavey.), the project continued developing through a series of workshops, and eventually director Mike Donahue came on board.
“Jordan, I have your spicy chicken sandwich,” the barista interrupted, yelling rather loudly for such a small coffee shop.
“I’m Jordan, but that is not my sandwich,” said Seavey.
After two years of further workshopping the play with Donahue, the Labyrinth Theater Company is producing its world premiere at the Bank Street Theatre, where it just extended its run until December 11.
The play tells the story of the relationship between The Writer (Michael Urie) and The Academic (Robin de Jesus). As they go through the traditional ups and downs of a relationship – first date, first I love you, first fight, and, ultimately, first breakup – Seavey explores their thoughts on technology and dating, non-monogamy in relationships, poppers and chemically-enhanced sex, and the violent hate crime that permanently changes the face of their relationship.
Watching the play is fascinating: on the page, the narrative jumps around in time, from 2006 to 2009 to 2008 to 2011, and all over Brooklyn, from Williamsburg to Park Slope, and everywhere in between. In performance, the audience needs no timeline spelled out for them, as Urie and de Jesus, whose intense performances fuel the show, are crystal clear about exactly where they are in the relationship. And those pesky pillars? Well, they end up not getting in the way, and the audience falls into a smooth rhythm of leaning forward and backward and standing up slightly, even, to see the action, some of which takes place on the floor.
What’s even more fascinating is that Seavey wrote the play almost as is, time jumps and all. “There was this crazy-ass thing going on in my head at the time, where I was able to write the play with no outline,” Seavey said in his measured, thoughtful voice. Because he wrote the first draft of the play in such a condensed period of time, he didn’t need notes to track the time jumps. As such, the production ends up shifting the scenes through subtle light cues and the actors barreling forward from one dense scene into the next.
While we chatted, Seavey told me that his mother was a working clown and mime. He grew up watching her shows and she often took him to the theatre. He was affected by the dark, sexy humor of Bob Fosse’s choreography in his film All That Jazz and by the uncanny ease with which Tectonic Theatre’s The Laramie Project captured the elevated theatricality of the human voice. That being said, “I’m not interested in naturalism, there’s gotta be something more,” Seavey said. Homos thrives in a space that’s not quite naturalism. Its two main characters talk over one another in run-on sentences, speaking thoughts that don’t quite intersect with the other speaker’s, thoughts that dig into the negative space around relationships and a hate crime, euphemistically tap dancing around what’s not being said.
“i don’t know what makes / a writer a writer,” the Writer says.
I ask Jordan about that line again. He doesn’t know either. “Most days I don’t,” he admits. “I’m a procrastinator who sometimes writes.” We finished our coffee, and Jordan, late for call, headed back to the theatre.
HOMOS, or, Everyone in America is on at Bank Street Theater until Dec 11. More info here.