New York, 1985. The city is in the grip of a disease called AIDS about which little is known. Rich, a young writer on the verge of a successful career is breaking up with Saul, his long-time lover, but his new romance is short-lived when he is diagnosed with the new condition and reconnects with Saul.
For everyone it offers an insight into what it means to love someone for either the moment or for always, in sickness and in health. It’s about life as is and should not be missed.
This play is a tragedy with humour epitomised in the relationship between Rich and Saul. Blake Kubena and Joey Bartram are superbly convincing in these roles. From the outset they create credible characters and successfully capture the highs and lows of their complex love affair. As the tensions mount while dividing up their assets the depth of their relationship is revealed even in its dissolution. Despite the rants, Saul evidently has an underlying calm and compassion, understanding and stability in contrast to Rich’s fecklessness, ambition and pursuit of pleasure. Reluctantly accepting his former lover’s hospitality following his diagnosis and rejection by the new guy, Rich is soon brought down to earth, a new reality dawns and his more soulful nature revealed.
The remaining cast in this ensemble performance give similarly impressive performances as they personify the diversity of reactions the condition provoked. In her introductory monologue as the hospice worker Sarah Griffin adopts a cosy, armchair approach in the manner of an interview without the interviewer. Simon Nader in one role as Rich’s brother energetically illustrates how families and friends often tried to be supportive but were so often overcome with fear and embarrassment. Ashton Charge, Kate Handford, Karl Mercer and Patrick Keeler take on multiple roles and draw on their impressive theatrical experience to ensure there are no weak links in this production.
Artistic Director, Milla Jackson has cleverly drawn on her background in ancient theatre to create a modern production which resonates with elements of Greek tragedy. Members of the cast are always around the stage; a hovering reminder of the people in Saul and Rich’s life, but from time to time they form the classic chorus, reciting observations and comments commonly heard in the early days of AIDS. Extensive use is made of projections to create the setting for the play. This is initially helpful but at times intrudes, particularly when what we see is no more than a visual representation of the text that detracts from focusing on the dialogue.
This is an important play in the history of writing about gay issues. Events moved quickly in the early 80’s. The celebratory period of emerging liberation was short lived. Harvey Fierstein’s brazen Torch Song Trilogy soon succumbed to the stark realities of William M. Hoffman’s ground-breaking As Is, which heralded a different age. This 30th anniversary production by Mice on a Beam stays true to the company’s aim of presenting “work which promotes discussion, engagement and self-reflection on contemporary and historical issues”. For those who lived through the 80’s, it will be a stark reminder of the fear and anger that beset a generation of mostly gay young men. For younger people it provides a glimpse of what they experienced. For everyone it offers an insight into what it means to love someone for either the moment or for always, in sickness and in health. It’s about life as is and should not be missed.