by DICK KEREKES
The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Theatre Department presented Lee Blessing’s play Patient A, in their Black Box Theatre for a four performance run last weekend. This play debuted in l993, but is very infrequently done probably because it concerns the subject of AIDS, which does not generally translate into good box office that most theatres need these days.
The play is about the life and death of Kimberly Bergalis. Bergalis was a Florida resident who died in l991 from complications of AIDS, which she contracted from her dentist. She had some molars removed in l989 by Dr. Asker who reportedly also infected six other patients. He died of aids and was therefore unable to testify in the law suit Bergalis filed against his insurance company.
Playwright Lee Blessing was commissioned by Kimberly’s parents to explore her case in a play and he did so by becoming a part of the story and in the script as a character. A third character, known only as Matthew plays several persons who interact with the playwright and Bergalis. Most of the time Matthew represents gay men who have contracted AIDS.
Each of the three characters reveals their inner feelings and debates these impressions among themselves.
Kathryn Kuhn as Kimberly was very impressive in her performance, and her monologues spoken directly to the audience told Kim’s story in a most sincere fashion and certainly had me emotionally involved. I recall the enormous press coverage of this case in print and on TV but since it has been some 15 years ago, I had forgotten many of the details.
Steven Carter was excellent as the playwright Lee Blessing and Mr. Carter was able to convey the age difference between him and Ms. Bergalis by his demeanor and vocal and body control.
Dexter McDaniel was at his strongest when he denounced the preferential treatment Kim received as a patient, while most AIDS patients were lucky if they could find a care worker to even hold their hand. His monologue about the unfairness of life was moving as well.
The production was done in a very minimalistic fashion, with few props, just mainly the three casually dressed performers on the stage. Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell unusual set design was one that certainly stimulated discussion among the audience. Bugs on sticks about the size of the political yard signs were all over the stage that was a multi level affair. A bridge on the left lead to nowhere and was in disrepair. Paints of clouds hung down from the ceiling.
If a play called for a study guide, this one certainly did, and the subject of AIDS could have been put into prospective, from a past history to current status. The symbolism of the set would have been interesting to explore, either in the study guide or as a discussion after the performance.
Since about an estimated eighty five percent of the audience was DA students, this play may have been the topic of discussion in the classroom.
The program had no information about the three students, such as previous shows etc, but all three certainly seemed to know their way around a stage and displayed a full understanding of the material they were presenting and of the characters they were playing.
Director Michael Higgins’ direction fully used and explored Blessing’s innovative approach to this national tragedy by bringing out a full range of emotions from the actors, including the bits of humor in the dialogue. The play was done without an intermission, and ran just a couple of minutes shy of two hours (I timed it). Add the half hour we sat before the curtain and that made 2 l/2 hours without an intermission on not very comfortable folding chairs. Please put an intermission next time.
It was a very thought provoking evening of theatre and one that gave anyone who attended something to think about.
by DICK KEREKES