As with the recent London revival of “Angels in America”, and Regeneration Theatre’s recent revival of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” audiences are momentarily curious as to why these LGBTQ plays are being revived now. In fact, a woman in the audience next to me was musing about that very thing after we’d both just seen Regeneration’s newest offering, a revival of William M Hoffman’s “As Is.” It didn’t take us long to remember that we are still, unfortunately, in Trump’s America, we have a Vice President that believes in conversion “therapy” for gay youth, and that, therefore, we all have to make as much effort as we can to remind the public that we will not allow ourselves to be pushed back into the intolerance and ignorance of the past.
“As Is” is very much a play of the 80’s, as the pre-show music reminds us. And not so much was known about HIV/AIDS in 1984 as is known now, about causes, prevention, or treatment. But now, in 2018, the slogan “ignorance = death” can be applied to so many different things that depicting the original inspiration for that slogan onstage inspires a deep and many-faceted experience for today’s audience, which is absolutely Regeneration Theatre’s mission statement.
All that said, “As Is” is not just an issue play. It’s never just been a play about HIV/AIDS. “As Is” is a play about love and friendship in crisis, which is something to which everyone can relate. Leading the cast as Rich, Brian Alford paints a compelling portrait of a deeply frightened and sensitive man acting out after his diagnosis in precisely the way all of us would. Rich is at once hopeful, angry, biting, and, ultimately, vulnerable in ways he wouldn’t have been before becoming ill.
Robert Maisonett plays ex-lover and current companion Saul with depth and breadth, nailing Saul’s jealousy and neurosis as well as his love, humanity, and loyalty.
I have also to give Regeneration kudos for continuing to revive plays with somewhat larger casts. This play employs nine actors, though some of them do double, and when many regional theatres limit productions to six actors, or even just four, Regeneration pushes against that tide and often produces plays with more. Without Regeneration, not only wouldn’t we necessarily be seeing “As Is”, but we wouldn’t have been treated to supporting performances by Jenne Vath (Hospice Worker/Narrato), Daniel Colon (Chet), Aury Krebs (Lily), Sara Minisquero (Business Partner), Rick Calvo (Pat), Mario Claudio (Barney), and Colin Chapin (In a sensitive and deft performance as the dying Rich’s brother.)
Director Marcus Gualberto keeps things moving apace in a very small performance space, and allows the actors to navigate the overlapping dialogue and the emotional landscape without overmuch fuss and fugue, guiding everyone gently toward the poignancy of the ending without veering into melodrama.
I would advise that you check out the revival of this play, not because you might feel it’s an artifact from some other, bygone time, but precisely because it’s not. As Is, particularly in this production, reminds the audience that situations are only addressed when they are identified, spoken about, and rallied around. Some of the voices that brought the discussion about HIV/AIDS into the spotlight during the Reagan era were, sadly, silenced. But in these days when the political climate seems to be swinging back toward intolerance, ignorance, and violence, all of us must do what we can to put a chock in that pendulum and prevent it from pointing us back toward a dark age of indecency and separation from each other. As Is will remind you that every voice is needed, even an echo from the past.
Regeneration Theatre will present As Is now through February 11th, 2018, at the Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues.