AIDS Memoire

Simpatico's production deals with right-wing hypocrisy about HIV.

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 11, 2006

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In Lee Blessing's Patient A we watch the author struggle to construct the play. It's an interesting approach, but in the current Simpatico Theatre Project production, it results in a performance that's only sporadically involving.

The inspiration for Blessing's unique drama is the true story of Kimberly Bergalis (promising newcomer Becca Landis), a 22-year-old who contracted AIDS from her dentist. A virgin who never had a blood transfusion or used intravenous drugs, Bergalis became a national celebrity--a poster girl for the so-called innocent victims of AIDS.

She also became a willing pawn of right-wing conservatives who attempted to depict gays as villains infecting innocent and sexually pure Americans. Even though there was no other incident of a healthcare worker infecting a patient, conservative politicians introduced a law requiring healthcare workers to reveal their HIV status. The law never passed, but that doesn't stop Blessing from investigating America's need to place blame for the spread of AIDS.

It's a compelling tale, but Blessing--who writes himself into the play--keeps getting sidetracked. Instead of allowing Bergalis' story to stand on its own, Blessing (an earnest James Needham Brown) repeatedly interrupts her tale with poetry and statistics intended to show us the larger implications.

The result is that although Angela S. Zuck's production is thoughtful and Michael Cosenza's portrait of a gay man with AIDS is touching, the play lacks drama. It's a shame because when Patient focuses on Bergalis, the play emerges as poignant commentary on the disgraceful and cowardly response of America's leaders to the AIDS epidemic.

"I did nothing wrong, but I'm being made to suffer," Bergalis says, and she's right. But what about all the other victims of the disease who, unlike Bergalis, weren't invited on Oprah or awarded an all-expense-paid vacation sponsored by Inside Edition for her and her best friend? Patient A may be Bergalis' story, but in the end it's the millions who've perished from AIDS in anonymity that we remember.

Patient A
Through Oct. 29. $12-$15. Shubin Theatre, 407 Bainbridge St. 215.423.0254. www.simpatico


Love and Rockets

This summer, as missiles flew between Lebanon and Israel, a group of Jewish and Palestinian theater artists in Israel rehearsed the movement-based Six Actors in Search of a Plot, by Palestinian playwright Muhammed Zaher and American Jewish director/choreographer Billy Yalowitz. Inspired by Luigi Pirandello's groundbreaking play Six Characters in Search of an Author, the production had previously premiered in Israel last January. As part of a U.S. East Coast tour the show will visit Philadelphia, where Yalowitz co-directs the Community Arts Program at Temple University. Yalowitz explains that Zaher's original script focused on how the wounds of history make it difficult for Arabs and Jews to embark on a new life together. Intent on amplifying Zaher's concept, Yalowitz created a parallel narrative about identical twins born with a life-threatening blood syndrome that gives one twin more blood than the other. The effect of the syndrome is that both twins are in jeopardy, with one possibly dying from a heart attack and the other smaller "donor twin" at risk of starvation. An allegory for the relationship between Arabs and Jews, Yalowitz says the play's message is that Palestinians and Israelis must distribute resources equally if they're to coexist. But Philly audiences almost didn't get to hear Plot's message of hope. As rockets landed in July near the company's rehearsals in Givat Haviva, Yalowitz says the relationship among the eight-member cast (evenly divided between Arabs and Jews) became unbearably tense. "During the war frustrations were so palpable we did come to a breaking point," Yalowitz explains, adding that only after venting their fears were the actors able to come together. Yalowitz hopes the production will not only humanize Palestinians in the eyes of Americans, but also explain to audiences what he calls "the difficult and necessary work of building justice within Israel."

>> Fri., Oct. 13 and Sat., Oct. 14, 8pm; Sun., Oct. 15, 3pm and 8pm. $25. Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St. 215.925.9913.

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