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Right From Wrong : For Colin Martin, the pain of AIDS misdiagnosis was starting point for new show, "Virgins and Other Myths."

January 07, 1994|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Imagine being misdiagnosed with AIDS. It happened to Colin Martin.

"I started having convulsions, shaking, chills," recalled the actor, who was in the middle of a performance class at Pittsburgh's Carnegie- Mellon University in 1985 when a mysterious malady suddenly overtook him and he was rushed to a hospital. In the emergency room, Martin says, he was told that the doctors were "95% sure" he had AIDS. "At the end of the week, they said, 'We're 95% sure you don't have AIDS, but we won't know for sure for two weeks.' "

For Martin, now 30, the horrific experience proved a watershed event--and the starting point for his new one-man show, "Virgins and Other Myths," which will have two workshop performances Sunday and Jan. 16 at the NoHo Studios.

At the time of his illness, Martin had a girlfriend, and had also had sex with men--which he says the doctors focused on in their misdiagnosis. (The actor was later found to be suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and a viral infection.)

"From that point," he said somberly, "I became aware of AIDS, and had to come to grips with my fear of it."

He began to exercise "compulsively, obsessively--trying to beat the disease I thought was inevitable," he said. He got into support groups and realized that he had to deal with his sexuality. He says he also started to uncover suppressed childhood memories of sexual abuse. After graduation, Martin, a native of Cambridge, Mass., returned home and joined the staff of a children's AIDS program at Boston City Hospital; later, he worked in New York for a foster care agency placing HIV-positive children.

After a stint doing publicity for Houston's Alley Theatre, he moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and at first laid low, "waiting tables and reading books." In 1992, accompanying a friend to an audition, he wound up getting cast in Robert Chesley's "Dog Plays" at the Celebration Theatre.

"Suddenly I was doing a gay play about AIDS in a gay theater--and I was nude," he said. "The play ran four or five months, and was a big hit. It was the first time that my sexual identity and artistic and personal life came together in the same room."

Since then, Martin has continued down that path with his involvement in Artists Confronting AIDS. Last year, in addition to his acting stint opposite performer/activist Michael Kearns in "Camille" at Highways, he directed two socially charged works, "Myron" and "Off."

"It's a difficult path I've chosen," he said. "I want to be successful, but on my own terms. If I have a hero, it would be Michael Kearns. In my family, the strongest message I got was to be of service. So I've tried to combine theater and film and service--and the person doing that is Michael."

Another touchstone in Martin's life is Mindy Kanaskie, an old friend from the days at Carnegie-Mellon, who is producing the show.

"What he's written is so open, so sincere and gut-wrenching," she said. "I love the idea of these kind of pieces, people revealing the honesty and dishonesty of their lives. I guess I've led a boring life . . . Through Colin, I'm learning to see more."

Where and When

What: "Virgins and Other Myths."

Location: NoHo Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 3 p.m. Sunday and Jan. 16.

Price: $10.

Call: (213) 969-2445.

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