Playwright: Patrick Cash
At: Buena Theater, 4147 N Broadway. Tickets: pridefilmsandplays.com; $25-$30. Runs through: July 7
Monologues are a powerful dramatic tool. Long speeches, full of rich detail and focused on telling a good story, can draw the audience into an immediate and deep alliance with a character, even if said character has behaved badly.
In Pink Orchids, a U.K. script now in its U.S. premiere as part of the Pride Arts Center Pride Fest, we are witness to some unbelievably bad behavior by Alex ( Jerome Beck ), a young actor who meets a man in a club, learns that the guy is HIV-positive and then attempts to ditch his date by climbing out the bathroom window. While Alex's potential lover immediately discovers the protagonist's sitcom solution, the audience has no choice but to engage with the runaway's fear, because he is the only person onstageand his is the only voice telling this story.
Patrick Cash's play ( formerly titled The HIV Monologues ), eventually introduces other characters who speak their piece: Nick ( Don Baiocchi ), the man whose diagnosis sent Alex running; Barney ( Nick Dorado ), an HIV-positive playwright interested in working with Alex; and Irene ( Kathleen Puls Andrade ), an open-hearted nurse whose empathy shields her from judging her patients. The characters share their daily trials and tribulations in one-on-one conversations with the audience, a storytelling device that allows Irene to show up in Alex's life, and for Barney to enter Nick's late in the narrative.
Cash is a humane writer, giving all his characters the benefit of their fear and doubt. Small moments, such as Barney smelling a flower and grieving a lost lover, stand out for their honesty. But too often such clarity is traded for formulaic humor and coincidence, not unlike the kind you might see in a sitcom. The conflict that arises between Alex and Nick could be an insurmountable one, yet the pair scale its rockier terrain simply and easily, without discussing what it might mean to fall in love with someone you will one day lose. Irene's outsider musings add a nice texture to the world, but we learn so little about her personally that we never understand what she thought about the queer community before she met anyone in it.
Director Brennan T. Jones does solid work with the actors, though sometimes the details he chooses to flesh out give one pause. When describing taking shirtless selfies, I'm not sure it was entirely necessary for one actor to take his shirt off, for example. At other moments, the script has characters describe their actions, and then Jones stages them, repeating what the audience already knows. It creates an odd imbalance, where we learn less from the words than Cash possibly intended.
Beck and Baiocchi make an appealing pair, while Puls Andrade grounds the entire premise in a clear reality; Dorado smiles through his tears, much as I imagine Cash wants. While Pink Orchids may not provide searing drama, it does ask us to embrace one another's foibles, and have a few laughs along the way.