David L. Zwiers, Jason Griffith and Ryan Stadler in Apple Core Theatre's As Is. Photo by Katherine McPherson.
BOTTOM LINE: The first play on Broadway to deal with the AIDS crisis, As Is encapsulates the issues and emotions of a charged watershed in our recent past.
Apple Core Theatre is producing William M. Hoffman’s 1985 play As Is with the best intentions: to remember the horror and confusion of the AIDS crisis at its onset and to remind us that the epidemic remains a present threat today.
This production does not revise or refresh the subject. It recaptures the moment in which it was written. As such, its effect is more historic and intellectual than visceral. As Is is not a play about AIDS as much as it’s a play about the obstacles and prejudices faced by the gay male community at the onslaught of what was then considered the “gay cancer.” Its relevance is strongest for audiences who lived and suffered during those terrible years.
Like the majority of AIDS plays from this period, the script seethes with anger, frustration, and ethos. The playwright vents, rages, and bewails on behalf of a tormented group who needed a voice, making for deeply moving moment juxtaposed to a hammering message.
The performers are committed and heartfelt, but the performances sometimes fall in the text’s trap of being self-involved and one-note. Similarly, the trite costumes seem to mock both the time period’s fashion and it’s theatrical aesthetic. However, both the costumed design and the acting maintain a consistency and effort which matches the staging, so I am convinced that director Walter J. Hoffman made strong choices which led the production to its final look and feel. While I don’t necessarily agree with these choices, I respect the commitment and execution behind them.
In fact, the only true problem I have with this production is its exclusiveness, especially the exclusion of African Americans, a huge part of our contemporary AIDS demographic. The script itself of course offers no direct reference to the AIDS crisis in relation to the black community because in 1985 it wasn’t prevalent, but in remounting this script in 2010, no endeavor was made to include the black perspective or to invite the black community into this shared concern. As such, the lack of diversity on stage translated into an audience without a single black person to participate in the dialogue or benefit from Apple Core's altruistic intensions.
And at the end of the day, this production’s intentions are purely benevolent. This revival of As Is emerges a solid, independent show that has the added bonus of raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and funds for Broadway Cares. If you have an interest in or concern about the AIDS epidemic then or now, check out As Is.
(As Is plays at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, through October 31, 2010. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM, and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $15 and can be obtained at the box office, by calling Telecharge at 212.239.6200, or at applecoretheatercompany.org.)