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As Is (05/01/1985 - 01/04/1986)


New York Daily News: "AIDS play convincing"

"As Is" transferred from the Off-Broadway Circle Repertory Company to the Lyceum on April 26, 1985.

Like Jerry Herman's song from "La Cage aux Folles," it's "something about caring, something about sharing." William Hoffman's "As Is" explores the grief and hostility that arises when one half of a gay couple contracts AIDS.

Suddenly, what was a happy union begins coming apart. Rich, the afflicted one, becomes angry, frightened, bewildered. He practically shuts Saul out, rejecting his offers of help and comfort.

But Saul doesn't give up. Hoffman's play is really about a faith and love that withstands the most taxing provocation. It's a trifle too sentimental at times, which seems anachronistic in these days of the almighty Me, but basically "As Is" is a strong piece that deals sympathetically with a real problem.

The play is weakest in its earlier part when the focus seems diffused. Six supporting characters, who play doctors, pickups, drug dealers and the like, seem to paint a portrait of the gay life. Yet, it is their fading in and out of the scenes, usually dressed in black, that makes the action appear too stagey, too device-y. Further, it detracts from Rich and Saul.

The focus sharpens, however, as the play advances and as the problem becomes increasingly sticky. Jonathan Hadary gives a taut, balanced portrait of Saul, certainly the finest performance of the evening. Jonathan Hogan is less convincing as Rich, though by no means substandard. Indeed, both are responsible for conveying an intensely real relationship. The secondary roles are ably handled by Ken Kliban, Steven Gregan, Lily Knight, Lou Liberatore, Mark Myers and, especially, Claris Erickson.

"As Is" returns Circle Rep to the winner's gate after a series of duds. Perhaps it's because Marshall W. Mason is back in the director's seat after a sabbatical.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "Healthy production of 'As Is'"

"As Is" transferred from the Off-Broadway Circle Repertory Company to the Lyceum on April 26, 1985.

A wonderful and frightening play has turned up at the Circle Repertory, and I commend it to both you and your conscience.

Some of my best friends are candidates for AIDS, the latest disease to scourge humanity, and I dare say some of yours are as well.

As it so happens that I am not homosexual, Haitian, an intravenous drug user or a regular blood recipient, I am not personally in any of the high-risk categories. As yet. Plauges have a habit of spreading - it is one of the things that have historically given them such a poor press.

But so far that oddly named contagious killer Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome has obviously affected me as a tragedy but also fortunately seemed almost as remote personally as a drought in Africa, an epidemic in India.

I have been lucky. None of my friends has succumbed to it although acquaintances, yes. Just how lucky I have been is now currently demonstrated by this terrifying, but moving, and occasionally bleakly funny play, William M. Hoffman's As Is.

It is about the effect of AIDS on a male homosexual couple. They had in fact already broken up, when one of them, a writer, is diagnosed as an AIDS victim.

The prognosis for AIDS is extremely poor. In a large percentage of instances it proves a long drawn-out death sentence, with many phases and remissions but a graveyard ending.

There is nothing particularly original about Hoffman's play - but the writing is stiletto sharp, and the characters emerge as disturbingly real.

The story is as old as mortality. These are the accomodations to be made to death - in another century the play could be Camille, and the death could be the Keatsian spangly doom of consumption. In our own time it could be cancer.

But AIDS has a new poignancy - simply because most of us are not personally affected by its existence, we have brushed it under the carpet of our feelings. Starvation in Ethiopia is a more manageable object for our compassion.

I doubt whether As Is will prove unduly popular with the homosexual community - its problems must be too near home.

Also it is possible that I was struck with it particularly for reasons fundamentally non-theatrical. I do believe that it is valuable simply in drawing graphic attention to a socio-medical problem that needs more attention than it is receiving.

But, for all that, As Is is a remarkable, a terrific play, not merely social propaganda. It might be compared with Eugene Brieux's far more preachy play about venereal disease, which caused a sensation right at the beginning of the century, Damaged Goods.

Hoffman's play, unlike the Brieux, is fast-moving and non-message-carrying. But it delivers a punch, even heavier than its controversial 80-year-old predecessor.

It admittedly owes a lot to the taut direction of Marshall W. Mason, and is acted with just the right admixture of wry comedy and tragic despair.

The staging - it is a joint production of the Circle Rep with The Glines, the group that produced Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy - zips along, helped by the ambiguous but handsome scenery by David Potts and the lighting by Dennis Parichy, both making their contribution to a play style that emphasizes cinematic vignettes.

As the victim, a poet and short story writer just over the vital brink of a promisingly distinguished career, Jonathan Hogan is corrosively bitter and almost mad with empty rage. It is a wonderful interior performance, turned in, yet with never a whine of self-pity.

As his loyal friend and former lover, Jonathan Hadary, is equally convincing as a man facing the invincible with courage.

Courage is the only sop to hope the play conveys - but it is the perky spirit that runs through the play, particularly in its humor, whether that comes from an outrageous leather bar, or from two harassed counsellors on an AIDS hotline.

Among the rest of the cast Ken Kliban, both as square brother and camp counsellor, Lou Liberatore and Claris Erickson are outstanding.

As Is should be seen and, if not exactly enjoyed, appreciated and understood for what it is. Never forgetting that part of what it is, is a rattling good play.

New York Post

New York Times: "'As Is,' About AIDS"

"As Is" transferred from the Off-Broadway Circle Repertory Company to the Lyceum on April 26, 1985.

There are some subjects audiences would just as soon not hear about in the theater, and surely one of them is AIDS, the lethal illness dramatized by William M. Hoffman in his play, ''As Is.'' But it would be a mistake for any theatergoer to reject this work out of squeamishness. Strange as it may sound, Mr. Hoffman has turned a tale of the dead and the dying into the liveliest new work to be seen at the Circle Repertory Company in several seasons. Far from leaving us drained, ''As Is'' is one of the few theatrical evenings in town that may, if anything, seem too brief.

This isn't to say that this 90-minute play is painless. A free-flowing journal of the recent plague years for New York's homosexuals, ''As Is'' rarely spares us the clinical facts of acquired immune deficiency syndrome; only at the end is the audience shielded from the physiological and psychological torments. Yet Mr. Hoffman has written more than a documentary account of an AIDS victim's grotesque medical history. As we follow the tailspin of a promising fiction writer named Rich (Jonathan Hogan), the playwright reaches out to examine the impact of AIDS on hetero- and homosexual consciences as well as to ask the larger questions (starting with, ''Why me?'') that impale any victims of terminal illness.

It's a feat that Mr. Hoffman accomplishes with both charity and humor. When Rich is hit by AIDS, he is breaking up with Saul (Jonathan Hadary), a photographer who has been his longtime lover. Saul has been badly hurt by Rich, but not so much so that he will turn his back at a time of grave need. Even as the two men bitterly split up their household possessions - from copper pots to ''the world's largest collection of Magic Marker hustler portraits'' - Saul decides to stick by Rich come what may, to accept him ''as is.''

Others behave just as compassionately. Although suffering cruel social ostracism, Rich eventually receives support from his married brother (Ken Kliban), from fellow AIDS victims (one of them female), from a maternal hospice worker (Claris Erickson). But such kindnesses are not so easy for the protagonist to accept. Rich swings between denial and anger, lashing out at both friends and strangers. He at first rejects Saul's affections with torrents of abuse and, at one point, vows to spread his infection indiscriminately through New York's demimonde of sex bars. ''I'm going to die and take as many as I can with me,'' cries Mr. Hogan, his voice coursing with rage.

Among other pointed digressions, ''As Is'' offers a satirical tour of that demimonde. We travel to a sado-masochistic haunt whose identically costumed clientele go by the names of Chip, Chuck and Chad; Rich and Saul recall fond memories of past anonymous liaisons in leather bars and Marrakesh graveyards. Mr. Hoffman doesn't deny his characters' enjoyment of what they euphemistically refer to as ''noncommitted, non-directed'' sex (or laughingly refer to as sleaze). But, in mocking obsessive promiscuity with light wit, the playwright can gracefully bid such behavior a permanent farewell without adopting a hectoring moralistic tone.

Mr. Hoffman devotes more attention to exploring both the present panic and solidarity of a group that has found itself rightly ''terrified of every pimple.'' For the play's homosexuals, the discovery of AIDS was an epoch-altering event: In a group recitation, they each remember where they were when they first heard of the mysterious epidemic. In another chilling scene, Rich is bombarded by a chorus of doctors' voices incantatorily repeating a single sentence: ''The simple fact is that we know little about acquired immune deficiency syndrome.'' The moment is counterbalanced by a vignette in which two men answering phones at an ''AIDS hot line'' dispense as much solace as they can without pretending to omnipotence or saintliness.

Sometimes the characters of ''As Is'' seem a bit too saintly: Mr. Hoffman eventually resolves Rich's conflicts with others in the neat, upbeat manner of ''Terms of Endearment.'' But so fluent is Marshall W. Mason's direction of the overlapping scenes that we don't notice the play's begged questions or superficial examinations of character until we're out of the theater. Mr. Mason may arrange the cast's choral configurations too pretentiously, yet his staging is mostly inventive: When Saul discovers a lesion on Rich's back, his reassuring words (''I'm sure it's nothing'') are ferociously contradicted by the anxiety-heightening sound of a hospital curtain yanking shut.

The acting could not be better. Mr. Hogan gives the breakout performance of his career as Rich: When he's not loudly venting terror, he also reveals a sensitive writer who had just found his way when the disease struck. In what may be his most affecting speech, he recounts Rich's ability to overcome a lonely childhood in which, as he says, ''I was so desperate to find people like myself I would look for them in the indexes of books, under H.''

Mr. Hadary's conflicted, at times comically whiny Saul is just as compelling, as are the performances of Mr. Kliban and Lou Liberatore in multiple roles. Miss Erickson's generous-spirited hospice worker, whose epiphany-laden monologues open and close the evening, may be more of a sentimental conceit than a character, but the actress makes her moving even so. ''My job is not to bring enlightenment, only comfort,'' is how she describes her mission to the dying and their loved ones. Mr. Hoffman's play, as much as is possible under the grim circumstances, brings a stirring measure of both.

New York Times

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