International City Theatre, a new Equity-Waiver space on the campus of Long Beach City College, has opened with a play that's topical (the topic: AIDS) without being controversial.

Within the restrictions of its genre, "A Quiet End" is thoughtfully written, by Robin Swados, and Jules Aaron's staging is a promising harbinger for the new theater. Yet ultimately "A Quiet End" is too quiet for its own good.

The most prominent AIDS play in town, "The Normal Heart," may have gone overboard in emphasizing the political dimension of the disease. But it sets off a buzz inside the theater that this play can't touch--perhaps because Swados doesn't even acknowledge the existence of a political dimension.

Instead of "The Normal Heart," "A Quiet End" is reminiscent of Michael Cristofer's "The Shadow Box." Set at hospices, both plays examine three patients trying to cope with imminent death. The patients sometimes face the audience under a spotlight and speak to an unseen psychiatrist.

The characters in Swados' play are more alone than those in Cristofer's. Their families are nowhere in sight. One ex-lover comes to call, but it's a tense visit. Unlike whatever afflicts the patients in "The Shadow Box," AIDS is contagious--at least among lovers--and no one can forget it.

As a result of their isolation, the men of "A Quiet End" turn to each other. Their stories intertwine, unlike those in "The Shadow Box," and the play becomes less clinical and more involving because of it. Still, it can't quite shake off the feeling that we've seen it all before.

The Long Beach performances are on the mark. Playing a man with "a severe case of prolixity" as well as AIDS, Fred Bishop maneuvers through his thicket of words with careful attention to what isn't said as well as what is. As his lover, Thomas Jackson is a convincing complement.

Randolph Powell credibly plays the man most ravaged by the disease, also showing us the vacuum within his character's heart. Bruce Wieland's portrayal of a kid from Iowa is a model of clarity and economy.

J. L. White's slovenly Upper West Side apartment looks authentic, and Mario Mariotta's lighting occasionally lifts the play out of its literal rut.

Performances are Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. in Building H, near the northeast corner of the campus, 4901 E. Carson St., Long Beach, through Feb. 9, (213) 420-4279.

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