“This is the narrative: men fuck women.”
Hommo never says two things when it could say one. It is this attitude that hides a dense and layered production behind a minimal and concise exterior: two actors in jeans and t-shirts perform in a small black box theatre in Kentish Town for barely 45 minutes; the stage is virtually empty; the staging is exact, still, and minimal. The writing is anything but.
Froy plays on ambiguity – a lot. What starts as three distinct story strands – two men plotting the murder of a woman, the seduction of another, and the incrementally developing homoeroticism between the two – gradually coalesce, playing heavily on hazy language which allows the two men to simultaneously discuss the act of murder and the feeling of having an orgasm. It’s smart; it’s tongue-in-cheek funny. By the end, it is very powerful.
Nonetheless, Hommo takes a while to get there. The play initially flounders with a slightly generic opening – slow pacing and awkward transitions sap the energy, whilst the text lacks purpose and progression. Sam Ebner-Landy (playing the dominant ‘L’) struggles with a one-dimensional characterisation which takes time to develop the nuance it requires. For such a unique piece, its start is disappointingly bland – but it is a short performance, and quickly moves past this, driven by an increasingly complex relationship between the two men.
Clever; powerful; funny; highly original and with a pair of strong performances to boot
The two actors gradually create an excellent onstage chemistry, repeatedly expanding and subverting the alpha-beta male relationship initially established. Ebner-Landy brims with confidence and embarrassment in all the right places, evoking a particular masculinity that allows him to freely discuss murder but able only to discuss sex in muted innuendo and double-speak. Erik Alstad is arguably the stronger of the pair, however. He finds a compelling and confused energy to ‘R’, a fish-out-of-water figure clearly uncomfortable with his masculinity yet committed to propagating it. It is an erratic character that allows him to pull off both the guttural passages of high emotion and hypermasculinity and the deadpan humour of a play that never takes itself too seriously.
Ultimately this humour is key to the play’s success. In its attempt to attack ‘manliness’ head on, Hommo occasionally risks becoming hypermasculine in its approach. It is the satirical, self-effacing humour that keeps it grounded – from the silly dances to the water pistols and the dick jokes. This produces a more insidious undermining, and renders it a brilliantly understated piece of feminist theatre.
Hommo has its flaws, but there is a lot to enjoy and admire here. Clever; powerful; funny; highly original and with a pair of strong performances to boot: Thom Froy has created a wonderful little piece of theatre that stands out as one of the rough gems of the London fringe circuit.
Image: Maria Lewandowska