Welcome 'Homesick' - Theatre Rhinoceros is back in charge

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday February 28, 2023
Share this Post:
Jordan Covington and Ian Brady in 'A Guide for the Homesick' (photo: Vince Thomas)
Jordan Covington and Ian Brady in 'A Guide for the Homesick' (photo: Vince Thomas)

Something remarkable is happening in a tiny former gallery space on 18th Street in the Castro. It's a play called "A Guide for the Homesick" on which I'm happy to bestow a secondary title: "How The Rhino Got Its Groove Back."

Playwright Ken Urban's thorny, engrossing two-hander centers around a one-night encounter in an Amsterdam hotel room between Jeremy (Ian Brady), a disillusioned young Harvard grad who has been working for an NGO in Uganda, and Teddy (Jordan Covington), a stereotype-defying finance bro. Bodies and souls are bared through their brave conversations and edgy flirtations.

The script is provocative but non-didactic, braiding intellectual and emotional appeal with aplomb. And it happens to fit the Rhino's new permanent home as if it were written for the space (Kudos to producer Joe Tally, director Alan Quismorio and stage manager Isaac Traister for devising a multi-environment set that works so well in this challenging narrow venue). It's the kind of socially sensitive and smartly sexual work on which Theatre Rhinoceros built its reputation.

Ian Brady and Jordan Covington in 'A Guide for the Homesick' (photo: Vince Thomas)  

Challenging times, and content
Over the past several pandemic-punctuated years, the Rhino — the country's longest operating queer theater production organization — has been in a state of flux, moving its performances from space to space while wrestling with show cancellations, sudden cast changes and an erratic selection of work that sometimes seemed more focused on spotlighting subsections of the queer community than showcasing the highest quality scripts, not to mention the financial and audience-development woes that vex all of our non-profit theater companies.

Along with several recently announced staged readings and upcoming new work by the delightful comic monologuist Tina D'Elia, "A Guide for The Homesick" suggests that this old thespian pachyderm has at last regained its footing.

From the multiple resonances of its title to its complex handling of racial and colonial issues without ever using the words "white" or "Black," to its incorporation of ripped-from-the-headlines topics (Evangelical American entanglements abroad) without centering or sensationalizing them, to its nuanced takes on mental illness and the psychology of repression, "A Guide for the Homesick" gives the Rhino a horn of plenty to work with.

Actors Covington and Brady dig into the material with commitment in a non-stop 90-minute performance that is no doubt both emotionally and physically exhausting (At last Sunday's matinee curtain call, I saw tears in the eyes of both performers as they squeezed each other's shoulders in gestures of support).

In addition to their primary parts, each plays a second role, which they make clearly distinct: Overall, then, there are six pairs of characters, each whose relationships refract and shed light upon the others.

Jordan Covington and Ian Brady in 'A Guide for the Homesick' (photo: Vince Thomas)  

Bringing sexy back
In addition to offering aforementioned thematic horn of plenty, the play is also plenty horny. The frisson of attraction between the main characters is palpable from the very first scene, with subtexts buzzing around every cleverly directed movement: To even sit on a bed is to light a fuse, to kneel in anguish is an invitation for sexual healing.

The characters' paths toward their eventual sensual nude scene feel inevitable and spine-tinglingly real. It's been too long since a local queer theater has presented such affecting and arousing sex between characters.

Quismorio elicits strong performances from his cast, hampered only by too-frequent, too-pregnant pauses in the dialogue. The pace needs to be picked up a bit, but it's not clear whether the actors or director are driving the intermittent doldrums. Brady makes telling use of his hands, constantly wriggling in his hoodie pockets to reveal his character's underlying anxiety. And Covington brings full-blooded life to his second character, complete with a distinctive and convincing accent.

"A Guide to the Homesick," provides a welcome remedy for those who've been missing the Rhino at its finest.

'A Guide for the Homesick,' through March 19. $12.50-$25. Theatre Rhinoceros, 4229 18th St. 415-552-4100. www.therhino.org

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.