The Homosexuals, Or 'Faggots'

24 February 2017 | 9:29 pm | Maxim Boon

The 'Homosexuals, Or 'Faggots'' feels just too polite in our current no holds barred world to raise any eyebrows.

The creepy-crawly-pussy-grabby influence of Donald Trump is not so slowly, but definitely surely, finding its insidious way into all the nooks and crannies of our collective lives. Perhaps dear ol' Don's most unconsciously high-brow impact has been on the notion of political correctness, or as it has seemingly become, political wrongness. The leader of the free world has laid the bar so very, very, subterraneanly low, that taking offence would become a full-time occupation. In fact, the desensitising cudgel of the daily dog whistle headlines has made feeling offended all but impossible.

Of course, when playwright and would-be farceur Declan Greene (Sisters Grimm) first came up with the idea of challenging notions of political correctness via a queer lens, he could not have known just how topsy-turvy the world outlook would be by opening night of his modern take on the classic farce, The Homosexuals, Or 'Faggots'. It does seem telling though, that a play which is hinged on a pearl-clutching level of outrage at an accidental slur, should premiere on the day that Milo Yiannopoulos, the vilest gay in the village, was officially discarded as the poster-boy of the Conservative ruling class. Despite his litany of knowingly repulsive insults against gays, lesbians, the trans community, Muslims, Jews, blacks, women, Mexicans, Leslie Jones, and virtually every other minority out there, it was only advocating sexual child abuse - one of, if not the worst crimes imaginable - that was finally offensive enough to cop him some well overdue flack. 

The characters in Greene's romp have far less to be upset about. Archetypal A-Gay couple Warren (Simon Burke) and Kim (Simon Corfield) can barely believe their eyes when they see the word "faggot" emblazoned in the menu of British-themed pub. Far from being a deliberate cuss, it is actually referring to a traditional British dish of the same name (minced liver meatballs in gravy, if you were wondering). Despite the pub owner's best efforts to placate them, Warren and Owen mobilise enough scandal, via an online petition, to have the pub unceremoniously put out of business.

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Morals, however, can be such a drag, and the pair's scruples turn out to be somewhat fluid. With Mardi Gras in town, Warren, who by day runs "thirst-trap" gay pop-culture site The Daily Bulge, is gearing up for a bad taste fancy dress party with his transgender wing-woman Diana (Genevieve Lemon). Before they paint the town pink, however, Warren is trying to squeeze in (pun intended) a saucy photoshoot with a hunky-but-dim straight lad, Lucacz (Lincoln Younes), behind Kim's back, naturally.

Farcical comedy is built on the possibility of tragedy, but because Warren and Kim are a vision of vapid vacuousness, what they deem tragic turns out to be rather superficial. A militantly outspoken queer theorist, Bae Bae (Mama Alto), who has an army of Twitter followers and a burgeoning web series, is due to come to Warren and Kim's million-dollar shoebox apartment in Darlinghurst to give a make-or-break interview for The Daily Bulge. If it goes badly, it could mean they lose an important business relationship which in turn could impact their designer lifestyle. The horror!

The comedy catalyst arrives in the form of a thieving meth-head, Pam, a mistaken identity and a whopping great baggie of cocaine, and largely the humour is brisk, cheeky and entertaining. But the stakes are hardly high, so the level of excessive panic essential to the farcical form feels forced. Another important ingredient of a true farce is the element of surprise, and many of the gags Greene leads us to can be seen a mile off. Thus, the biggest laughs are contained to some of the more pungently ripe punchlines, of which there are some real zingers.

Despite this new play's predictability and occasional lulls, the cast are consummately committed to this action, and thanks to the seasoned guidance of director Lee Lewis, their full tilt physicality keeps this show from sagging. Burke is an utter showman, knowing just how to wring every ounce of wincing hilarity from Warren's cringing pursuit of Lucacz, while Corfield nails the whiny, duck-faced incredulity of the gay elite. Mama Alto finds the funniest guise of both roles with flair, but the most side-splitting turn of the evening comes from Lemon, who is gloriously crass, leaving barely an expletive unused.

However, for a farce about political incorrectness, the action, albeit high energy, is relatively tame. Perhaps it's the influence of Trump? Perhaps it's the fact John Waters and Divine were doing balls-out, five-alarm offensive queer storytelling 40 or so years ago? Perhaps it's the sad fact that far more people are wielding terms like the F-word with the intent to cause harm than are likely to use it accidentally? But ironic as it may be, The Homosexuals, Or 'Faggots' feels just too polite in our current no-holds-barred world to raise any eyebrows. Down the road at the Princess Theatre, The Book Of Mormon is a masterclass in bad taste comedy, and by comparison, Greene's text is almost monastic.

There is, however, one fascinating moment that makes this new play worth a look. Diana, a transgendered woman who lived on the frontline of the Australian AIDS epidemic in the '80s, arrests the cartwheeling pace of the show with a powerful sermon. This searing monologue rails against the blissful ignorance of overtly privileged white gay men, so besotted with themselves that they have forgotten just how hard won their insta-fabulous lifestyles are. There's nothing funny about this truism, but it is the most persuasive idea in Greene's text. Perhaps this suggests something about the kind of theatre he could be writing.

Malthouse Theatre presents The Homosexuals, Or 'Faggots' to 12 Mar.