Scarlett and I sat for more than three hours this weekend. With two intermissions and three acts which built upon one another until the whole thing came toppling down... or rising up... or burst into a zillion crisis pieces... the performance ended with a gasp from the audience and then.... silence.
Absolute silence preceded thunderous applause. Though the applause must have been gratifying for the cast and crew, the silence was more telling... and spoke louder than the clapping of our hands. Matthew Bowdren's directorial debut left us stunned, speechless, moved, hollowed out, and aching for more.
Loss and abandonment, denial and greed and the consequences of living a lie.... The Rogue Theater's subject matter never leaves us laughing. We are thoughtful, introspective, wrung out, and shaky; our smiles are for the excellence of the production and do not reflect the angst we've experienced from our seats. Someone must have written a worthwhile comedy, don't you think?
A quick survey of those sitting around us revealed that none of us had seen the play before. Since we were all of a certain age, the play's setting was all too familiar to us. 1985 - Ronald Reagan and AIDS and the elevation of greed to an art form - was very real to us. Big Cuter saw the play as history; we remembered the reality and saw no reason to subject ourselves to a retelling.... until now.
There were teary, older, gay men leaving the show. I spent the afternoon thinking of my social work colleague, the third person in Chicago to die of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.... AIDS before it had a catchy moniker. He kept telling us that he was dying; we kept telling him that he was too young to be so depressed. And then, he died. Watching Magic Johnson these days it's easy to forget that, before dollars were spent on research, the virus ran unchecked through the gay community, and it was a death sentence. Tony Kushner's words brought it all back, in a rush.
I don't know if I'd have ventured to see it someplace else, as a stand alone piece. Those around me echoed the sentiment. It was the first play in the 2016-17 season; we all had season tickets so we swallowed our reservations and took our seats. Scarlett wanted to leave after the first act; it was painful. The second act was intense, the third necessary to see what happened, and now she's sad because she'll be out of town in early October when they do a reading of Perestroika, the second and final part.
The passage of time hasn't dimmed the horror. And that, I think, is a good thing. It's good to be reminded that sometimes the government has to get over its reluctance to step into a messy situation and must act to save the vulnerable among us. It's good to be reminded that politics has always had an inherently unsavory side. It's good to see the consequences of hiding in plain sight, of self-castigation, of longing and of loss. It's not easy, but it's necessary.
That, I think, might be a definition of art.