STAGE REVIEW : The AIDS Drama 'As Is' Hasn't Aged Well

William M. Hoffman's early '80s AIDS play "As Is" seems an odd choice for the first production at the Comedy Store Playhouse (the former Hollywood Playhouse).

"As Is" was born out of Hoffman's anger at the staggering toll the disease was taking on friends, the fear and lack of understanding of parents and co-workers, and the political and medical Establishments' almost total denial that much should be done about the "gay plague." Its statements are still valid, but its emotional impact isn't as staggering as it was almost a decade ago. Time has passed and tempers change.

The play doesn't hold its age well. Surprisingly for a writer with Hoffman's credentials, it looks sort of tossed together, as if in haste to get it before the public while the news was still hot. Highly lauded at its premiere, "As Is" isn't crafted to withstand the passage of time, like most plays that depend on today's news and forget about tomorrow's theatergoers.

Other more emotionally gripping AIDS plays--"A Quiet End" and "Seven Sundays" come to mind--have gone past providing the general public information about AIDS. The simple heartbreak of their portraits of the sad and courageous victims is testament enough to the tragedy and keeps them pertinent.

This frugally staged production of "As Is," essentially the same one staged in January by South Orange County Community Theatre in Laguna Beach, doesn't do much to make the material fresh, even as a period piece. Sandy Silver's direction is uneven, with little sense of timing or the rhythm of the individual scenes. She's gotten little in the way of performances out of most of the apparently inexperienced cast.

Dan Millington stands out as Rich, the victim in question, who left his lover for a new mate just before finding out he tested positive. He has subtlety and a lot of vulnerability, which helps bring together the production's best scene, in Rich's hospital room.

It's also the best scene for Mike Moon as Rich's lover Saul, whose forced buoyancy at the bedside focuses an otherwise unfocused performance; it also gives a few touching moments to Bart Story as Rick's borderline homophobic brother.

Ardis Faith is believable in several roles, but most of the company is not. They recite their lines without assurance or involvement and aren't able to overcome the dated and cumbersome exposition scenes that keep "As Is" from holding its own as an AIDS play for all seasons.

At 1445 Las Palmas Ave. in Hollywood, Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m.; matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2. Ends May 27. $24-$26 (part of proceeds benefit AIDS Project L.A.); (213) 466-2222 or (213) 642-4242.

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