BWW Review: SAFE SEX, VAULT Festival
Harvey Fierstein's response to the AIDS outbreak in the 80s and the subsequent silence from the government came in the form of three one-act plays in 1987. The Network Theatre Company picked Safe Sex to be staged as part of VAULT Festival, an accidental choice that turns out to be exceptionally timely at this point of threatening pandemic.
Ghee (Sam Neal) and Mead (George White) have recently reconciled after a turbulent stretch. In a moment where AIDS-related news has overtaken the media, their friends have started to die, and gay men are given a list of do's-and-don'ts, the line between avoiding sexual intercourse out of prevention and out of emotional deflection is blurred.
Director Jacob Trenerry places the actors on a still seesaw. Whether this represents a bed, a ledge, or the edge of a rooftop, it highlights the precariousness of their liaison as well as the political climate of the time period. Their perilous positions and the need to keep their balance through almost mirrored movements affects their body language even as a pretense and adds visual meaning to the piece.
As they uncover the cracks in their relationship, they delineate the hardships of navigating personal bonds, sex, and sexuality during the crisis. Neal's Ghee explains how the epidemic pointed the spotlight on gay men and took them out of their invisibility, it did so for the wrong reasons. Passion, anger, and concealed fear lace Neal's address, while White bases his reactions on physical expression.
Fierstein's text is, obviously, lyrical and poignant. He weaves his rage with comedy, delivering a personal lecture on the specific time frame and LGBTQ+ history. The pauses and breaks in his characters' speeches become pregnant with reflection under Trenerry's direction, and the socially engaged overtones seep through the apparently lighthearted exchanges.
In 40 minutes, a picture of justified paranoia appears. The political implications and the tardiness of medical research instill anxiety in the potentially vulnerable, while the more flippant slice of society disregards the dangers unafraid of their contribution to the spread. Sounds familiar?