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Facing History in A Guide for the Homesick

As rain pelts down from a January sky at the beginning of Ken Urban’s new play A Guide for the Homesick, two strangers find themselves in the small sanctuary of an Amsterdam hotel room. Inexplicably drawn to one another, the two Boston natives seek solace in each other’s company and an escape from the chaos of their lives. As night falls, however, reality slowly creeps into their refuge —through the voice on the other end of a telephone, in the plans fortomorrow’s flight home, and through their own troubled consciences. Even with a stranger, in a distant and protected room, A Guide for the Homesick illustrates how we can never outrun our own histories. In the apparent safety from the outside storm, the two men begin to let down their guards and reveal traces of who they are. Teddy, born and raised in Roxbury, is visiting Amsterdam with his best friend Ed. Jeremy, a recent Harvard grad, is returning home from his stint asan aid worker in Uganda, where he met Nicholas. As the intimacy between Jeremy and Teddy deepens, these carefully spun stories unravel and expose inconsistencies that both are afraid to explain.Where is Teddy’s friend Ed? What happened to Jeremy’s friend Nicholas? What is the history that each man is running from?

Jeremy’s personal history echoes the real life hysteria that surrounded the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Ken Urban grounds A Guide for the Homesick in the political moment of 2011, as details of Jeremy’s life evoke the complicated history that helped form the human rights crisis in Uganda. As an American health worker, Jeremy belongs to a long tradition of US medical intervention.

During the 1980s, when AIDS wreaked havoc on a global stage, the United States helped fund a sexual education program in Uganda that asked citizens to, “Abstain, Be Faithful, and Use a Condom.” The rateof new HIV diagnoses dropped significantly by the early 2000s, and Uganda was internationally hailed as a success story. Though thepush towards personal responsibility encouraged Ugandans to take their health into their own hands, it also laid the ground for believingin the culpability of those who became sick.

In 2004, Massachusetts celebrated the legalization of gay marriage,as LGBTQ groups around the world raised their voices againstthe laws and injustices of their countries. The increased visibility spurred anti-gay groups in Uganda to rally in opposition. Scott Lively, a Massachusetts Evangelical minister, attended a conferencein Uganda in 2009 to help strength the anti-gay messaging of theChurch. The subsequent appearance of signs reading “No 2 Sodomy,Yes 2 Family” on taxis and motorbikes in the city of Kampalaencouraged MP David Bahati to introduce a bill that proposed death sentences for “serial offenders” of homosexuality and prisonsentences for those “aiding and abating homosexuality.” Playwright Ken Urban writes in the wake of these political changes. Six thousand miles away from Uganda, in a hotel room with another man, Jeremy cannot outrun the memories of the friend he leftbehind. In A Guide for the Homesick, the room — sought as a haven from the past — transforms into a place where the two men must reckon with their own history. Haunted by personal and historical events, A Guide for the Homesick also offers the possibility of a different future, both for the characters and, in turn, for the audience. “It’s not too late,” Teddy tells Jeremy, “To change. To face the truth.”

– SARAH SCHNEBLY


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