Ask Michael Kearns where his newest play, "Mijo," comes from, and he answers with a single word: truth.
"I was taking care of an ex-lover, a Cuban, and his mother had come to live with him in the final weeks," says the writer.
"One of the most chilling things I ever heard--a line he repeated over and over--was, 'You brought me into this world; you have to take me out.' "
Originally, the relationship between the boyfriend and the mother was dramatized in Kearns' 1993 collection of AIDS-related tableaux, "Off."
Now, he has reshaped the story into a two-act play: The first part takes place as the son is in the next room dying; the second, after he's gone.
It's a challenge to come up with a fresh take on the subject, admits Kearns, an activist and writer whose theater work includes the AIDS-themed "intimacies," "more intimacies," "Myron" and "Rock."
"My job is to approach this AIDS thing in a different way, make you want to go to the theater," says the actor, who vamped it up in Charles Ludlum's drag tragicomedy "Camille" last year at Highways.
"Here, the dying person is off stage, and the focus is on the people around him, their responses to each other."
On Sunday, Kearns' drama will have its world premiere at NoHo Studios, as part of its ongoing "Theatre at Three" series.
"You never see the son; it's just two characters--a black man and a Hispanic woman," explains the play's director, Alec Doyle, who has worked locally at Beyond Baroque, Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble and Theatre/Theater. "The mother, Carmen, is doing this deathwatch on her son, and in walks Juan's longtime lover, Michael, who basically tells her, 'You've got to let him go.' "
At 6 feet 5 inches, flamboyant and leather-clad, Michael, Doyle says, is a bit of a metaphor--"real but not real."
"On a deeper level, he's been conjured by Carmen to get her through this."
In the face of Carmen's stoic Catholicism, notes Doyle, Michael argues passionately for euthanasia: "He tells her, 'It's not about bad boys or good boys--it's about finding forgiveness.' Michael works as a combination guide, shaman, trickster; he takes her down the path to shed all of this old-world guilt."
Between acts, we learn that the two, working in concert, have killed Juan.
"Carmen realizes it was a release she did for her son," says the director, "that she can hold onto him in her heart, and what a good feeling that is."
In spite of the seemingly heavy subject matter, Doyle--who has a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of New Hampshire--promises "lots of humor."
When he originally read the script and talked about it with Kearns, he recalls thinking, " 'This is interesting and disturbing.' It stayed with me, leaving a question mark. Also, as a straight man, the fact that I'm attracted to this piece, and that Michael would choose to work with me, points out its universal qualities. It's about AIDS and euthanasia, but it's really universal. Everyone can get a handle on that."
WHERE AND WHEN
Location: NoHo Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
Hours: 3 p.m. Sundays. Closes June 19.
Call: (213) 969-2445.