The Future Is Now!

Beirut is a timeless metaphor of the past

At first, one might wonder why anyone would produce an AIDS play these days. I mean, AIDS isn't a real problem anymore, is it?

Don't let those pesky stats from the Centers for Disease Control bug you—40,000 new infections each year in the U.S., with black, straight women taking the biggest hit. But while Alan Bowne's 1987 play Beirut was written when AIDS was splashed across front pages (and predicted a horrific future of quarantining HIV-positive folks that didn't really come true), today it serves as an acute metaphor for getting rid of any segment of society considered dangerous. Currently, that would be Mexicans and women who wear Spanx.

Rude Guerrilla director Dave Barton leaves the metaphors to you, however, and stages this bleak story as it was intended: On a restricted block in New York's Lower East Side, those infected with a highly communicable disease live in a veritable dunghill until they expire. Tattooed on their buttocks is a large "plus" symbol, indicating the presence of the deadly virus and the relinquishing of all civil rights. In the outside world, life sucks: Sex is forbidden, and anyone caught shagging is publicly hanged. Masturbation and porno are encouraged, however, and Hollywood is washed up, so maybe it's not really that bad.

Torch (Alex Walters), a Positive, is quarantined in the hellhole he appropriately calls "Beirut," where he endures daily orifice inspections by the Lesion Patrol and eats what looks like catfood. The gal he almost diddled before being locked up, Blue (Jami McCoy), sneaks into the colony to be with him because life without love and sex just isn't worth living. Blue is young and idealistic, you see, and for most of this one-act, she begs Torch to infect her. He refuses, describing in poetic detail how one's guts are shat out after seeping lesions eat away the flesh—and other nauseating scenarios. Still, Blue persists, her philosophical reasons for wanting to become infected often making sense in a "live for today/take control of your life" kind of way—until you remember what she's really asking for.

Of course, the idea that people could be rounded up, forcibly tested and thrown into a leper colony is not the stuff of fictional Orwellian futures-indeed, people who are HIV-positive have been subjected to these very same measures. So were the lepers, come to think of it. And the Japanese. Don't get me started on the Indians. I guess that means the real question that might run through your head when you see Beirut (and you should see it) isn't "Whom have we done this to before?" but rather, "Who's next?" I've never really liked redheads, myself. . . .


Beirut at Rude Guerrilla, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688; www.rudeguerrilla.org. Sat., 4:30 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. Through Feb. 3. $20.

 
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