William M Hoffman’s ‘As Is’ was one of the first plays to deal with the Aids crisis when it premiered off-Broadway in 1985. Today, behind a 30-year firewall of awareness campaigns and anti-retroviral drugs, it’s hard to imagine just how terrifying the disease must have been back then, when seemingly healthy men were dropping like flies and, as Hoffman says himself, he had to cross out something close to 100 names from his address book.
The play opens with charismatic young writer Rich leaving his ever-devoted boyfriend, Saul. As the couple bitch over who gets what of the shared possessions, Rich blurts out that he’s been diagnosed with an Aids-related condition.
It’s a death sentence, and the play explores what happens next through a fruit-salad of different off-beat characters, from a couple of leather-capped gays Rich tries to pick up in a nightclub to a middle class housewife he meets in counselling, infected, alienated and six months pregnant.
Both Tom Colley and David Poynor are excellent as the tragedy-bound leads, Rich and Saul. Jordan Bernarde is similarly good as Rich’s brother, a character horribly torn between his love for Rich, his ignorance of this frightening new disease and the pressure heaped on him by his wife to cut all filial ties.
‘As Is’ is a sharp and unsentimental take on the Aids pandemic in its first horrid flush. Filled with eloquent monologues and pitch black humour, it’s a heart-breaking window into the past and, at the same time, this revival poses a very searching question: despite how we kid ourselves, are we really so more enlightened today?
By Nathan Brooker