Although John Weston describes the setting of his new play, "Listen to the Dreaming" as "the era of AIDS," he doesn't want it viewed solely as a drama about acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
"The characters do live with the specter of AIDS, and that, of course, is a crucial, deadly concern of the story," said the Irvine-based author best known for his novels, including "Hail, Hero!"--a Vietnam-era story--and "The Walled Parrot."
Unlike the thrust of recent plays with AIDS themes, such as "The Normal Heart" and "As Is," Weston said he didn't seek to use his play, which debuts Saturday in Laguna Beach's Forum Theatre, merely as a platform for social issues.
"I didn't want a play that would be thought of as gay-oriented, or that seems pedantic or to be making a political statement," he said.
"Neither is it an overview of the AIDS crisis, although I seek to underline the gravity of the disease among both men and women and the idiotic ideas some people have about how to outwit it."
Rather, the play's central issue, he said, "is about human relationships in the face of this cruelly baffling disease--the interconnection of four very human, very ordinary people."
"Listen to the Dreaming" is being presented by Stop-Gap, the Orange County drama group that specializes in controversial topical issues. After the play's 8 p.m premiere Saturday, it will be performed the following two weekends, Oct. 15-17 and Oct. 22-24, also at the 225-seat Forum Theatre on the grounds of the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts.
Stop-Gap's executive director, Don Laffoon, is staging the Weston work.
The play centers on a middle-age antique store owner (played by Glenn Smith) and his encounter with a young man (Pete Carter) who is trying to rob the store. Slowly, a close relationship develops--and the older man, something of a social recluse, decides to take care of the younger man, who is dying of AIDS.
The play offers two other characters: the store owner's divorced sister (Rochelle Savitt) and her daughter (Alisa Tan), who herself may have been exposed to AIDS.
Weston's title comes from various kinds of dreaming, he said, "as much to do with memories and the hopes of the four characters as it is does with the failure of some to confront the ugliness of the real world."
Off stage, the play's AIDS connection is no less evident.
Laffoon said box-office proceeds will be used to benefit Stop-Gap's educational touring project on AIDS, which begins next month at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana and at Laguna Beach's Thurston Middle School. The touring work, "His Brother's Keeper," is a short play about an AIDS victim and his family.
Weston, who is also an actor, played the doctor in "His Brother's Keeper" when the playlet was premiered Sept. 20 in Costa Mesa as an Arts on the Green event.
But Weston's involvement in AIDS education and support programs predates either "Listen to the Dreaming" or "His Brother's Keeper."
Two years ago Weston co-sponsored a "theater night" benefit for the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County, a support organization for victims and their families. The benefit involved a Stop-Gap performance of "Beyond Therapy" at the Laguna Beach Forum Theatre.
A longtime professor of literature and creative writing at Cal State Los Angeles, Weston has been an established writer of novels, poems and short stories for more than two decades. But "Listen to the Dreaming" is his first produced play--and to him a work of unusual urgency.
"I had thought about it (an AIDS-era play) for some time. It is a crisis situation that none of us can ignore. Like so many people, I have friends or know of others who have died from AIDS," he said.
"As we all know, AIDS is still a very controversial, extraordinarily sensitive issue," Weston said. "My hope is that the play can help bring about greater understanding of the impacts of AIDS on all of us--that it involves great societal, as well as physical, risks."
Tickets for the "Listen to the Dreaming" premiere Saturday (Oct. 10) are $25. Tickets for the regular run, Oct. 15-17 and Oct. 22-24, are $10 general admission and $8 students and seniors. Curtain time is 8 p.m. Call (714) 722-7727 for information.