BWW Review: A GUIDE FOR THE HOMESICK: A Haunting World Premiere
A Guide for the Homesick
Written by Ken Urban, Directed by Colman Domingo; Scenic Design, William Boles; Costume Design, Kara Harmon; Lighting Design, Russell H. Champa; Original Music & Sound Design, Lindsay Jones; Dramaturg, Jeremy Stoller; Dialect Coach, Amy Stoller; Production Stage Manager, Adele Nadine Traub; Stage Manager, Jeremiah Mullane
We hear a lot of stories about the difficulties faced by men and women returning home after military service in any of the foreign countries where American troops are deployed, and about the unsatisfactory medical facilities that serve our veterans. However, we don't hear much about the experiences of international aid workers, either while they are abroad, or when they come home. Playwright Ken Urban was commissioned by Epic Theatre Ensemble to write a play about these workers, and his interviews with volunteers for Doctors Without Borders inform his new thought-provoking drama, A Guide for the Homesick, now receiving its world premiere by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Boston Center for the Arts.
Flawlessly directed by Colman Domingo, the two-hander features a pair of remarkable, synchronized performances by McKinley Belcher III (Teddy/Nicholas) and Samuel H. Levine (Jeremy/Eddie), each playing two roles in real time and flashback scenes. Teddy and Jeremy are strangers who meet in a hotel bar in Amsterdam and share a stormy evening in Teddy's grimy room, getting to know more about each other than either initially intends. Coincidentally, both young men are from Boston (Teddy from Roxbury, Jeremy from Newton via Cambridge/Harvard), but their reasons for being in Amsterdam seem quite different until more is revealed. Jeremy is returning from a volunteer stint as a nurse in East Africa (Uganda), while Teddy, a finance worker, has been enjoying a trip with a friend who is soon to be married.
Teddy and Jeremy have contrasting personalities, but it becomes evident that each man harbors a troubling secret from which he seeks escape, or at least solace, in the company of the other. In order to peel back the layers of their stories and get at the truth, Urban writes quick shifts to flashback scenes. Belcher becomes Nicholas, a Ugandan homosexual befriended by Jeremy at the clinic where he worked, and Levine becomes Eddie, Teddy's close friend whose sudden departure and ensuing absence is disturbing. Domingo engineers these changes in the blink of an eye, with some technical magic by scenic designer William Boles and lighting designer Russell H.Champa, and the ability of Belcher and Levine to suddenly alter their personas is masterful.
A Guide for the Homesick is powerful and haunting. Although the stories of Teddy and Jeremy are specific to them, the themes they represent are universal. What is the definition of home? Is it a person or a place, and once you've left, can you ever truly return? When something goes horribly wrong in your life, how do you redeem yourself and transform? Urban poses these questions and more, asking us to bear witness to the trials of these men. In the end, we do not sit in judgment of them, but the result is a greater understanding of the guilt that they feel.