Rich (Blake Kubena), a typically confident and aloof writer, breaks the news to his former lover Saul (Joey Bartram), as well as friends and family, that he has AIDS. He battles with illness as he watches all those he holds dear start to distance themselves… except for Saul (Bartram), who stays by his side at times when he doesn’t want or even deserve it. The story brings in various insights into the couple’s past and sporadically drops in stories from others somehow involved in their lives, such as the hospice worker (Sarah Griffin) and Rich’s brother (Simon Nader).
The script itself is a gift to any actor – well-written, full of emotion and passion, and a great insight into the mystery surrounding AIDS in the 1980s. Tony Bannister designs video montages that are projected throughout the play, adding colour and perspective to the events that unfold upon stage. The surprise stand-out performance here is not one of the two main characters however, but that of the hospice worker (Griffin). She fondly reminisces about the people she meets in her job, conveying a gentle humour and an endearing tone. Straight away she becomes a Samaritan, someone that you would want to have at your side near the end of life to comfort you and give you peace. When Griffin cries in her final speech, the atmosphere in the audience is one of empathy and compassion as she rages against her feelings of inadequacy to those whom she believes truly deserve help.
Kubena and Bartram are both plausible as the lead couple, working better together than in isolation. But both tend to rush their lines at poignant moments and skip through much needed pauses in conversation. When Rich (Kubena) goes around picking up guys in bars, Saul (Bartram) should be more distraught; “What about me?” he asks, but the audience doesn’t feel his insecurity, his need for Rich to still love him. When Rich is lying in hospital and recounting his time with toy-boy Chet (Ashton Charge), the audience sees Kubena go through the right emotions but there lacks a depth to his feelings, an extra layer that would elevate the performance to something more meaningful.
The play has real potential, but needs a bit more work with the characterisation to bring out the as of yet untapped emotion. If all the cast were able to showcase the feelings that Griffin has easy access to, then this will become a really thought-provoking and powerful piece.
As Is plays at Bedlam Theatre (venue 49) until August 30 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Fringe website.