STAGE REVIEW : ‘Soul Survivor’: Bruno’s Lesson in Coping With the Plague Years
“It’s time to laugh,” wrote Anthony Bruno in the program for his “Soul Survivor,” at the Shepard Theatre. Beyond the literal meaning, Bruno is also saying that it’s time for gay theater to move beyond the school of grim AIDS plays and focus on the survivors of the plague. It’s a declaration that gay culture cannot be defined solely in terms of a dreaded disease.
Call “Soul Survivor” a post-AIDS play. But don’t call it a non-AIDS play. It hinges on the death from AIDS of Brian (Jerry Clark). His lover Jerry (Steven Patterson) is just beginning to recover from the loss by starting another relationship, with the much younger Mark (Tom Wagner), when Brian returns from the dead, ready for action.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Dec. 19, 1987
Bruno’s position is delicate. He runs the risk of minimizing or trivializing AIDS. In fact, by not mentioning AIDS, instead referring to it as “the disease,” he has minimized it. Why the euphemism?
The return of Brian, as a ghost who is visible and audible only to Jerry, not to Mark, is where the potential for trivializing appears. Brian is the sort of blithe spirit who turns on the stereo simply by pointing in the right direction.
In one smartly executed bit of farce, Brian picks up the nearly naked Jerry and carries him around the room, much to the astonishment of the unseeing Mark. It’s funny, but is it healthy to pretend that AIDS victims are all frolicking around paradise, waiting for the moment when they can cheerfully bounce back into life?
No, it’s not healthy, Bruno comes close to acknowledging. Jerry has to go on with his life--without Brian. In the meantime, though, is there anything wrong with a little synthetic consolation?
The answer to that question may depend on how many of the serious AIDS plays you’ve seen. As someone who has seen plenty of them, I found “Soul Survivor” a refreshing change of pace and tone.
Perhaps it’s Rudy Garza’s staging that makes the play seem light-hearted rather than shallow. The actors win us over, from the steamy seduction scenes between Jerry and Mark (yes, they practice “safe sex”) to the second act banter. The design, by Jimmy Cuomo (set) and John Sowle (lights) is elaborate and precise.
Not so incidentally, playgoers who object to frontal nudity--or those who welcome it--should know that “Soul Survivor” includes a lot of it.
Performances are at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. (added performances Dec. 29 and 30, no performances Dec. 24 or 25) , through January. Tickets: $12-$14; (213) 466-1767.