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(Foreground) Mason Mahoney, Ken Pienkos, Randy Gravelle, Cheri Gaulke, Darrell Larson, Tristan Scott-Behrends, and Sophie Kim. (Background) John Glenn Harding (Photo by Ed Krieger)
(Foreground) Mason Mahoney, Ken Pienkos, Randy Gravelle, Cheri Gaulke, Darrell Larson, Tristan Scott-Behrends, and Sophie Kim. (Background) John Glenn Harding (Photo by Ed Krieger)

Shades of Disclosure

Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Skylight Theatre
Extended through March 11

RECOMMENDED

It’s not helpful to dwell on the generation gap between the young and the old, particularly in the world of LGBTQ folks. The young possess the great currency of youth — beauty, brashness, opportunity. By contrast, if capitalist culture markets to Queers at all, the older folks are shunted to the side — it’s all about the clubs, the circuit parties, the lovely cruises. When anyone does think about seniors, it’s to suggest that older gay men enjoy their Geritol and sign up to lovely sites such as “Suggardaddyforme.com.”

The one thing older members of the LGBTQ community have in common, however (aside from their AARP cards), is this: By sheer definition, older Queers are survivors. And by survivor, I don’t just mean that they’re still alive — in that respect, we’re all survivors, gay or straight. I am talking about the fact that the so-called baby boomers and Generation X queers are those that actually lived through and saw the plague with their own eyes.

I think that the young can’t possibly understand  what it was like to see people dying all around you, with no one being able to do a thing about it. This was before the advent of Truvada or even AZT; now, by contrast, AIDS is viewed as a chronic annoying illness.

In this Michael Kearns-directed production, Queerwise, a consortium of LGBTQ writers, create an oral history of what it was like in the bad old days. While it lacks the range and depth of other oral histories (and misses the opportunity to craft a more immersive production, like last year’s Remberg Center phenomenon Hit the Wall),  it still packs an undeniable first person impact.

The production consists of an ensemble of people, the writers, who also bear titles such as “The Innocent,” or “The Widower.”  The stories themselves consist of anecdotes, some weighty, some incidental, which describe not just the era of the plague, but also what it’s like to have survived, and how the world has changed since the ferocious era of the 1990s.

Darrell Larson tells a powerful tale of a bisexual man who contracted the virus during an extramarital affair. Roland Palencia describes the stigma of being an immigrant from Guatelmala, also with the virus. A particularly lovely monologue comes from transgendered performer Jessie Jacobson, as a psychotherapist struggling with her own feelings as she treats her ailing patients. David Trudell is surprisingly moving as an unrepentant lothario who refuses to give up his lifestyle (though he plays safe).

The monologues have undeniable impact — but the aspect of Kearns’s staging that is most involving is its lovingly crafted intimate mood. The characters address us as friends, and there’s a feeling of bonding and inclusion similar to what one might find in a self-help or 12 Step group. The villains here are homophobia and fear — and not even grief is enough to make one forget the past.

The narratives the writers unspool contain references to recent developments (a few writers wear “pussy hats,” for instance, and mention the post-Inauguration Women’s March downtown) and the piece provides a beautiful sense that activism requires constant and eternal vigilance.   

Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave. L.A..; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;  Extended through March 11. http://skylighttheatrecompany.org.  Running time:  70 minutes with no intermission. 

 

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