How the 1985 AIDS Drama As Is Changed a Theatregoer’s Heart and Mind

Playbill Pride   How the 1985 AIDS Drama As Is Changed a Theatregoer’s Heart and Mind
 
I thought I would be immune to the play’s power because I’m not gay,” a moved theatregoer wrote to Playbill in 1985.
Steven Gregan and Jonathan Hogan in <i>As Is</i>
Steven Gregan and Jonathan Hogan in As Is

Digging into the archives, we unearth the original articles printed in the Playbills of yesteryear...

William M. Hoffman’s Tony Award-nominated 1985 drama As Is was among the first plays produced on Broadway to with the AIDS crisis that was ravaging the gay community at that time.

Audiences both gay and straight were deeply affected by the moving play about a man dying of AIDS and the former lover who stays to care for him.

Among them was Elaine M. Zablotny, who wrote to Playbill in 1985 and shared her life-changing experience as part of our “A View From the Audience” feature.

I sat for several minutes after the final curtain fell on As Is at the Lyceum Theatre. I was analyzing the feeling the play had stirred in me, and my mind was trying to put a name to it.

The reviews had informed me that As Is dealt with a homosexual couple and that one of the partners was dying of AIDS. I had expected to be informed, my social conscience aroused. I had not expected to be touched so deeply.

I thought I would be immune to the play’s power because I’m not gay. However, the theme turned out to be not essentially about homosexuality and AIDS, but rather about facing death and choosing love and life. So there I was with that strangely familiar feeling I could not define, but which seemed to link me with everyone in the theatre. The energy of our applause supported me as I rose to my feet. I felt like a glass paperweight that had been shaken to make an interior snowstorm.

My feelings were still swirling as I walked awkwardly up the slanting aisle, balanced by other slowly moving theatregoers, each, no doubt, exploring his own significantly altered inner landscape. Had there been any teenagers present, they would have exclaimed, “Oh, man – whatta play!” But we were mostly a middle-aged audience – quiet, well dressed, thoughtfully meditating on our own mortality.

As I exited toward Broadway, my eye glimpsed an outdoor display of earrings for a dollar. One pair was turquoise plastic, shaped like a man’s tie with stripes of glitzy silver. I had to have them. “How I love sleaze,” the man with AIDS in the play had said, and suddenly, I knew what he meant. That was what I was feeling. That was what theatre did for me. It made me fall for life once again, no matter how tawdry or terrible or tacky it might look in the artificial light of reason. In the dark of the theatre, I could see beneath the cheap materials, the cracks and flaws, to something so beautiful that I was willing to take like “as is” – a bargain at any price. Putting on the earrings, I walked into Times Square, loving the glitz of the colored lights all around me. “High tack,” I thought, “that’s my style. It’s the real spirit of the theatre.”

High Tack is Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, hanging up her paper lanterns over the naked bulb and singing, “It wouldn’t be make-believe, if you believed in me.” It’s Eddie and May in Fool For Love, pounding on the metal walls of their motel room trying to break into each other’s hearts. It’s Bonnie in Hurlyburly saying that her job as a topless dancer may make her into a joke for Eddie, but it’s the way she feeds her kid. It’s Richard Roma in the murky Chinese restaurant of Glengarry Glen Ross conning his mark into buying swampland in Florida with a sales pitch as iridescent as a rainbow in an oil slick. It’s something of the human spirit shining out of the sleaze.

Shakespeare is definitely High Tack, especially in the dark comedies like Much Ado About Nothing or Measure for Measure. Jim Dale in Joe Egg asking the audience, “How many hours were you in labor?” is High Tack. And so is the woman who answered, “Forty two.” All jokes about incurable illness are High Tack. “The worst thing about AIDS is trying to prove to your parents you’re Haitian,” quips Rick in As Is in order to make his lover laugh. And we in the audience laugh – and cry, too – because we feel the human spirit reaching through that tackiest of realities, death itself, to celebrate our common life.

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