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Friendship elusive in ‘A Guide for the Homesick’

Susan Saccoccia | 10/26/2017, 6 a.m.
The word “friend” comes up often in the dialogue between Jeremy and Teddy, the main characters in “A Guide for ...
Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “A Guide for the Homesick.” T. Charles Erickson

Scenes switch from Teddy and Jeremy in the hotel room to the Ugandan clinic, where Jeremy advises a frantic Nicholas, and to Teddy bullying Ed as he succumbs to a manic-depressive fit.

This mingling of past and present deepens the play. And by casting the actors as the friends of Nicholas and Ed, the production adds nuance to the pull between the two men, who see in each other the friends they have betrayed.

Although the cues preceding each switch to the past are a bit hokey — light bulbs flicker to an ominous rumble — the production’s artful staging conjures settings that vary from a dreary hotel room to an Ugandan landscape and heighten the emotional tenor of each scene. William Boles designed the sets, with lighting by Russell H. Champa and costumes by Kara Harmon. Sound design by Lindsay Jones turns the insistent ring of a cell phone into an urgent motif and in this production, the beat of rain on a roof, often soothing to the ear, becomes a pitiless downpour.

“A Guide for the Homesick” offers a lesson with a sting: The homecoming of friendship eludes people who are not at home with themselves. Lacking self-knowledge, Urban’s characters wreak havoc on themselves and others. Theirs is a story as old as the tale of Oedipus, the king who, blind to himself, destroys those he holds dearest.