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Giving Fabric to Lives Behind the Patches in the AIDS Quilt : Theater: "It's about celebrating and affirming the lives of those that've passed," says Attic's artistic director.

June 04, 1995|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is covered with names. Now there are faces, stories and songs to go with those names.

"Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens," now playing at the Attic Theatre in Hollywood, uses a series of monologues to give voice to 30 people whose names make up the AIDS quilt. The monologues are interspersed with songs by four characters representing a chorus of loved ones.

The piece--with book and lyrics by Bill Russell, music by Janet Hood, and orchestrations and vocal arrangements by the late James Raitt--has played to rave reviews off Broadway and in London. But it has not been seen in Los Angeles, with the exception of a one-night AIDS benefit at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in 1991.

"It's a very positive show," said Michael Michetti, the Attic's new artistic director. "It's about celebrating and affirming the lives of those that've passed--and for the most part, it's not a very political play. It's much more of a personal approach to the subject. The 30 people represent a vast array of points of view, all sorts of humanity. It's like the quilt itself: we see all of the elements. Some are more interesting or less interesting by themselves, but when they all come together in the finale, it's very powerful."

Michetti, who was born and raised in San Diego, moved to Los Angeles for theater studies at USC. Since graduation, his local directing credits include Stephen Sondheim's adaptation of Aristophanes' "The Frogs" at the Attic (1993), Stephen Metcalfe's "Strange Snow" at the West Hollywood Playhouse, Doug Motel's "Mind Salad" at the Coast Playhouse and the concept and staging of the Brian Shucker/Bill Sawyer hit musical "Babes" at the Cast and Matrix Theatres (1990).

"I had been looking at other directors whose careers I admired, and almost all had been artistic directors," Michetti said. A phone call out of the blue from James Carey, who had co-founded the 50-member company with Denise Ragan in 1987, quickly turned into a harmonious collaboration.

"Part of the reason I felt so good about coming here was that my ideas were almost the same as James' and Denise's," Michetti says. "But they really needed another cheerleader at the helm." He definitely was in the cheering section for "Elegies," bringing it to the company and initially contacting author Russell in New York. "We have a vision statement at the theater about reflecting the culture in Los Angeles; certainly, a great deal of the population is dealing with HIV and AIDS," he says.

Carey, who is serving as producing director at the 54-seat theater, is directing "Elegies."

"My approach to directing is, sometimes you come across a piece and want to put your name all over it," he says. "Other times, you just want to put it out there [and] this is one of those. You want to let it breathe, let Bill's words and music speak for themselves."

Carey has, however, helped shape the piece: "I tried to find linking sections in the show--it goes from New York in the early '80s to the Midwest, a hospice section, San Francisco--so that you find not only an emotional through line, but a time arc to give it bookends, a frame of reference."

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The director also brings a personal empathy to the project. "My mother recently died after a long-term illness; I had spent the final days at her bedside," Carey says. "What you learn from that kind of experience is that death is part of the life cycle."

He sighs. "Our society doesn't like to think about death, doesn't like to talk about it. In this piece, all of the characters have passed on. And yet it's full of hope and laughs. You see that in their stories: the great pathos and the great joy, the dark side, the humanity--the whole life process that death is a part of."

"Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens" plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays at the Attic Theatre, 6562 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Closes June 17. Reservations: (213) 469-3786.

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