SALT LAKE CITY — Strangers: A Homo’s Odyssey is one of many offerings at this year’s Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival. As with most Fringe shows, I was not sure what to expect beforehand. Upon walking into the venue to see Flying Bobcat’s Strangers: A Homo’s Odyssey, I was immediately intrigued. Set in the corner of what appeared to be a repurposed restaurant, the dimly lit room was lined with plush red carpet and velvety red walls and black curtains, giving the feel of a fancy, perhaps alluring, hotel room. Padded red chairs were set up right next to each other, forcing the audience, presumably strangers, into close proximity with one another. The intimate setting created an open and receptive environment, perfect for this production.
Strangers: A Homo’s Odyssey, is a one-person show written, devised and performed by Tom Roche. The play recounts the character’s experience of coming out, showing moments of struggling to accept his gayness, adventures of online dating, and ultimately learning to love himself. An exploration of love and sexuality, the play is evocative and entertaining. It is clear that Roche is passionate about his work and de-stigmatizing queerness.
As Roche takes his audience through his journey, he is vulnerable and expressive, showing a large range of emotions. I found the way he could change his persona seamlessly from more of a boyish character to a more manly one to be remarkable. The use of movement and specifically the same repetitive movements that correlated with precise phrases worked very well, emphasizing important emotional aspects. With many moments of solemnity, thoughtfulness, charisma and humor, Roche is able to engage with his audience and keep them invested.
Very simply staged, Roche makes great use of a solitary chair on stage, using his body position to signify specific character traits, and often sexuality and desire. The spotlight on Roche’s body when he was in an upside-down position was simply a beautiful image. Another image Roche created nicely was the utilization of a clothes rack acting like a medieval pillory, representing the crushing pressure he feels.
All in all, I found Strangers: A Homo’s Odyssey to be a strong new work and a creative telling of a beautiful journey to self-acceptance and happiness. Much like Odysseus returning from the Trojan War, Roche displays his character as having spiritually grown from his journey. The most meaningful message of the piece to me is that love is finding yourself and embracing what makes you happy, in spite of strangers watching.