Monday, June 9, 2014

What THE NORMAL HEART, MOTHERS AND SONS, and Afrika Brown’s THE OUTING all have in common.

By Kristopher Karcher

What began as just an issue with the homosexual community, HIV/AIDS is now an epidemic that exists in every part of the globe in every sexual orientation, race, gender, and culture.  Not only is HIV/AIDS an incredibly important topic to have in the media, but very relevant thanks to the recent airing of The Normal Heart on HBO. The new adaption of the 1985 play by Larry Kramer, sheds light on the earliest cases of HIV/AIDS in the gay community. A silent killer, no one really knew what it was; just that it was mainly in the homosexual community. Some guessed it was sexually transmitted, but many thought you could get it just in the air. After a while, the disease was nicknamed the “gay cancer.” Gays at the time had just found their sexual freedom, and they were now losing it to some invisible force picking them off one by one. The epidemic made them afraid of the government, the medical system, and each other.

The 1980's were a terrifying time for the community.  And some are still scarred.  Recently I saw TONY Nominated Mothers and Sons, a beautiful play by acclaimed playwright, Terrence McNally.  The story follows a mother (Katherine) surprising her late son's (Andre) old lover (Cal) with a visit.  Cal now has a husband and kids, but is still obviously haunted with thoughts of his old partner, who died of AIDS.  Though many themes (such as LGBT acceptance) run rampant through the play, I did not expect McNally to touch on HIV/AIDS when I sat down in that theatre.  McNally examines 3 different generations and how they dealt-or didn't deal with-the AIDS crisis.  Katherine, of whom rejected her son's sexuality and didn't know how to deal; Andre, who was older and experienced the crisis of the 80's; and Cal, who was younger and didn't really experience the crisis until the 90's, when people had an idea of what they were facing.  The different experiences each of the three characters faced beautifully defines different generations dealing with the disease.

THE OUTING, like many plays in the LGBTQ genre, deals with the AIDS epidemic, but on a more modern timeline, somewhere around the late 90s early 2000s.  Salome, one of Jizelle's best friends, is infected by her ex, who left her and told her by writing it on her bedroom wall.  Salome announces she's going to retire for a bit to take care of her health, and then, theoretically, she's going to be okay.  At the time the play takes place, AIDS is no longer a death sentence, but it still blacklists a person.  There is still that rejection.  But in her community, Salome finds acceptance and support.  New plays about HIV/AIDS are just as important as the old ones, because they are documenting the experiences we have with the disease now as well as further educating those who know too little about the epidemic. 

In today's world there are documented cases of patients being cured of this disease.  Though nothing is set in stone and there is no set vaccination, we are progressing in ridding of this plague.  Unfortunately, not enough people are talking about this.  If there was a vaccine that cured cancer, it would make world headlines for a month.  Why do you think so many people talk so little of the HIV/AIDS crisis?  Yes, President Kennedy ignored using the word like Voldemort for quite some time, but it's 2014, why is this still an issue?  AIDS will continue to be a problem until it's just as heavily funded as breast cancer or leukemia.  So why don't people care?  Is it because it's primarily an STD or attained by drug use?  Do you think that's fair?  Comment below or @RiantTheatre.

THE OUTING by Afrika Brown will be performed in the Riant Theatre's Strawberry One-Act Festival in Series E on August 24th at 2pm at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46th Street, NYC.  For tickets go to

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