BWW Review: Alan Bowne's BEIRUT Explores Love and Freedom in a Dystopian Future, at the Shoe Box Theatre
Dystopian fiction is having a heyday. From 1984 to The Handmaid's Tale, it seems we can't get enough of stories that show us a terrifying future that seems way too plausible. BEIRUT, by Alan Bowne, now playing at the Shoe Box Theatre, premiered more than 30 years ago, but its themes are just as relevant in today's political climate.
In BEIRUT, a mysterious sexually transmitted disease is ravaging New York City. To control it, the government has declared sex a capital crime and instituted regular blood testing. Anyone who tests positive is tattooed with a "P" on their buttocks and quarantined in the Lower East Side, while those who test negative are constantly monitored to ensure they're not having sex. In the middle of this, Blue, a young woman without the disease, breaks into Beirut to be with her blood-positive boyfriend, Torch. She wants to stay, as for her life without love isn't worth living, while he can't stand the thought of giving her the virus that would eventually kill her.
BEIRUT first came out when America was in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, but the idea of isolating a particular group out of fear rings just as true now. The play is also about deciding what's worth living, and dying, for. And it's about the nature of freedom. Blue is free to do what she wants, but there's nothing much to do -- businesses are shuttered, Hollywood is shut down, and burlap sacks are the fashion du jour. Torch is not monitored, and he can have sex with any other blood-positive person he wants, but he can't leave Beirut, or even order a pizza.
The acting in this production is superb -- Joshua Weinstein (Torch) and Mamie Colombero (Blue) do an incredible job of portraying the characters' internal and external struggles over how they choose to live, if there's a choice at all. They're even able to find some very welcome humor in their situation. Props especially to Weinstein, who was a last-minute replacement for the original actor and learned the entire show in short order.
BEIRUT made me very uncomfortable, which was exactly its purpose. The threat of dystopian fiction is that we might find ourselves there right quick if we stop paying attention, and this future is not a place we want to be.
BEIRUT runs through June 22. I recommend it. More details and tickets here.