Anthony J. Piccione
For some of us, it often feels easy to forget just how recent of a cultural shift the embrace of LGBTQ equality has been in the United States has been. Prior to the beginning of this decade, a vast majority of the public – including in supposedly progressives states such as California in 2008 – viewed non-heterosexuals with disapproval, if not outright disgust. While there’s still more that can be done, things were far worse in the past. That’s especially true back in the 1980s – less than half a century ago – when a horrific disease was practically dismissed by much of the public, at first, due to the false assumption that it only affected those within the LGBTQ community. It’s a truth that William M. Hoffman’s play As Is – presented by Regeneration Theatre this February – does a very fine job at reminding us, and at doing so on a very human level.
It is similar to other plays such as Angels in America and The Normal Heart, in that it focuses on the topic of what it was like to be a gay man living in the Reagan era, when the AIDS epidemic in America flourished. However, as the program of the show notes, what makes this play distinct is the way it focuses not so much on the broader, more political aspects of this time period. Rather, it hones in specifically on the more personal and intimate aspects of dealing with AIDS, and how it had such a major impact on so many lives and relationships. The result is a very poignant story that, while taking place in 1985, could still potentially be relevant even today in 2018.
Presented in the Workshop Theater’s Main Stage Theater, the production is staged beautifully by director Marcus Gualberto. With the help of set designer Kiah Keyser, lighting designer Sophie Talmadge Sillick, and sound designer Allison Hohman (who also serves as the show’s stage manager), the production manages to be relatively minimalistic, while also perfectly capturing the scenery and atmosphere of the various scenes and moments in the play, from the apartment to the bar to the hospital.
The production is also wonderfully cast, filled with actors who do a magnificent job at bringing the show to life. Lead actors Brian Alford and Robert Maisonett each deliver deeply powerful and emotional performances in the roles of Rich and Saul, respectively. I also liked the monologues delivered by Jenne Vath as the Hospice Worker, which at first provide a good dose of comic relief to the show, before ultimately delivering a very heart-wrenching moment toward the end of the show. The talented ensemble is rounded out by Daniel Colon (Chet), Aury Krebs (Lily), Sara Minisquero (Business Partner), Colin Chapin (Brother), Rick Calvo (Pat) and Mario Claudio (Barney).
What struck me the most, as I watched this play and the fundamental issues it dealt with, is that it’s the sort of story that seems to deal with core issues that aren’t too far off from what any couple – gay or straight – may be dealing with. What lies at the heart of this play is a couple whose relationship has been strained and been through a great deal of hardship, all as one is dying and the other is struggling to come to terms with it. That’s something that I think many of us can relate to. I hope that our readers will be sure to go and see this deeply powerful piece – and the talented artists who have brought it to life – during its run at the Workshop Theater this month …
"As Is" – presented by Regeneration Theatre – runs at the Workshop Theater from February 1st to February 11th. For more information, please visit www.regenerationtheatre.weebly.com.