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AIDS and Innocence


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To the editors:

In her review of intimacies (December 8), Diana Spinrad expresses the "anger" she experienced as a result of seeing my theatrepiece in which I portray six PWAs (Persons With AIDS). Please allow me to express my anger as well as my frustration and pain and confusion I experienced as a result of reading her review.

Allow me to describe three of the six characters who comprise intimacies: Big Red is a black street hooker who happens to be a single mother with an eight-month-old AIDS baby and a teenaged daughter. Although Big Red continues to ply her trade, she does it safely ("mostly hand jobs these days") and supports her daughters. As she faces death, she "concentrates on forgiveness." Rusty is a nineteen-year-old runaway, kicked out of the house by his parents, who finds himself on the streets of Hollywood, broke and addicted to drugs. He also finds out what caring for another person entails when one of the tricks he's turned ("All he wanted to do was kiss my eyelids") dies and leaves him abandoned once again. Phoenix is a homeless ex-con who discovers the power of love from a young gay man who convinces him to get clean and sober before he dies. AIDS proves to be the catalyst for his recovery as well as his renewed spirit; "I don't want to die, I want to love," he says.

Spinrad refers to all the characters I portray as "stereotypical dregs of society, full of hatred and self-loathing . . . despicable . . . true misfits and perverts."

Another character, Patrick, is a gay yuppie, employed by Disney Studios in Hollywood while Mary is clearly delineated as a well-spoken and gracious (albeit deeply disturbed) woman from the South.

"Kearns clearly intends to show only the AIDS victims who inhabit society's underbelly," Spinrad states.

Those are the factual errors in Spinrad's review. My issue with other aspects of her criticism are less easy to pinpoint yet even more insidiously disturbing.

Since Spinrad presumes to guess what goes on in my mind--". . . he seems to be saying: 'Look. These people are ugly, hateful, and selfish, but they are human beings. And they are dying. And we should care.'"--I'll attempt to read her thoughts.

Spinrad seems to be saying I should write a play about characters who will somehow comfort her. "And it angered me that an artist as talented and caring as Kearns should devote himself to them when lots of loving, innocent people are dying of AIDS . . ." she says.

Her use of the word "innocent" (which she employs more than once) is seriously problematic. Are we to presume my characters are guilty? Of what? Is Spinrad the jury? If guilty, is she saying my characters deserve to die? Or simply don't deserve to be heard? Silence equals death.

This "innocent" label is the stuff of TV journalists and hysterical evangelists ("the innocent children with AIDS")--not the stuff of a hip paper like the Reader.

Spinrad suggests the midwest is "not ready" for intimacies. She further suggests my depiction of AIDS "may be irresponsible."

Would she prefer a Movie-Of-The-Week treatment of AIDS? A reworking of the Ryan White story? Television networks have lined up a disproportionate number of TV movies depicting the "innocent" hemophiliac children with AIDS. That's irresponsible.

The theatre is the sole arena in which AIDS can be honestly depicted, up-to-the-minute. intimacies is, above all else, timely--whether you live in Des Moines or Africa. Is the midwest immune to homelessness? Drug addiction? Prostitution? Do only loving innocents get AIDS in Chicago? The midwest needn't be protected.

What disturbs me the most is what I perceive to be a real desire on Spinrad's part to censor my work. This is the job of Jesse Helms and Company, not that of a theatre critic for a progressive (albeit midwestern) newspaper.

I appreciate Spinrad's compliments about my abilities as an actor and writer and her acknowledgement of my compassion. But most of all, I appreciate her honesty: "But he does show us their humanity, and makes us really think about our feelings about AIDS and AIDS victims--discover the prejudices within ourselves."

I hope Spinrad takes a long and hard look at her prejudices before she writes about AIDS theatre again.

Michael Kearns

Artists Confront AIDS

President, Board of Directors

Diana Spinrad replies:

Your letter implies that you have misinterpreted my review. I'll reiterate: Michael Kearns is a dedicated, impressive artist, and Intimacies is a hard-hitting, thought-provoking piece. Good luck to you, Mr. Kearns. I hope we backward, overprotected midwesterners see more of your work.

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