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STAGE BEAT

Fringe Festival : 'AS IS'

September 25, 1987|Don Shirley

The phrase as is , attached to a price tag, denotes merchandise that isn't in tip-top shape. This is the case with the Los Angeles premiere of William Hoffman's "As Is," one of the first and most famous plays about AIDS.

George Gunkle's staging, in a student production at Cal State Northridge, is muffled and murky. From halfway back in the house, too many lines are lost (including one that precedes the sentence "I don't believe I said that"). James Okumura's lighting, generally on the dark side, occasionally misses the speaker entirely and illuminates unimportant or unused corners of the stage. Dennie Miller's cluttered set forces the actors to parade monotonously around the front of the stage.

Except for their sporadic failure to project their lines, Daniel Emil Mulia and Steven Cohen are strong enough as the two ex-lovers, one of whom is dying of AIDS. But some of the performers are, well, collegiate. The supposedly middle-age hospice worker, who opens and closes the play, looks and sounds like a kid.

As for "As Is" itself, its time may have come and gone. AIDS is no longer an ignored subject in the media; the play has lost its power to shock. The unnecessarily fragmented story at its center isn't nearly as harrowing as many we've heard. Nostalgia substitutes for deeply drawn characterizations.

Performances at CSUN Campus Theatre, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m., through Oct. 4. Tickets: $7. (818) 885-3093.

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