Beirut | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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BEIRUT, Smilin O' Productions, at La Piazza Cafe. Written in the paranoid 80s--when a diagnosis of AIDS seemed a death sentence and right-wing commentators were recommending quarantines for carriers of the disease--this raw little one-act by off-Broadway playwright Alan Bowne stirred considerable controversy. Set in a plague-ridden New York where sex between "positives" and "negatives" is a capital crime, it concerns a young heterosexual couple, Torch and Blue--he's infected, she's not--who wrestle with whether to commit the ultimate act of doomed love. Bowne, a promising young artist who died of AIDS soon after writing this play, uses feverish bursts of poetry to suggest that suicidal romance can be the ultimate affirmation of life, a rebellion against social and biological oppression.

Especially now that AIDS is understood as a treatable condition rather than a terminal disease, Beirut needs actors of great skill and intensity to make its argument plausible. But the earnest young cast of this flaccid, monotonous revival are hopelessly out of their depth. Playing characters whose names suggest the burning heat the script requires, Tim "O" O'Hollearn (also the producer) and Marjorie Fitzsimmons fail to strike any sparks together; O'Hollearn is whiny rather than desperate (and inaudible much of the time), while the athletic Fitzsimmons comes off fliply confident rather than passionately powerful. Annabelle K. Frost's staging benefits from its grungy cellar setting but lacks any sense of danger, despair, or desire. --Albert Williams

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