Loving in the plague years
Three Penny Theatre1723 25th St.
Sacramento, CA 95816
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and no one feels fine.
Instead, the people who have contracted—or merely tested positive—for an AIDS-like plague are quarantined in a prison camp set up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, while those who have tested negative are watched relentlessly by “sex cams” to make sure that they don’t engage in any “risky” behavior.
That means sex, and by extension, love.
Oh, yes, Beirut is a very dark drama set in a severely dystopian near-future. It’s grim and gritty and full of language and acts that are not appropriate for children. It’s a morality play, and an allegory about AIDS. But it’s also, thankfully, about the hope we carry, like a virus that just won’t reject our own humanity.
Torch (David Campfield), all coiled rage and fear, has tested positive and is confined to a graffiti-strewn room in the quarantine area called “Beirut.” He longs for Blue (Jessicah Neufeld), the not-quite lover he left on the outside, who remains negative.
And then she arrives, sneaking into the quarantine area. As she tries to convince him to let her stay and to really make himself vulnerable by loving her as a woman and not an ideal, he wrestles with what it means to be moral when that most basic bit of humanity—love, in all its physical manifestations—may also be a death sentence.
Campfield plays Torch as a man trying desperately to find a moral center and reject his own selfish needs to the good of the woman he loves. He makes Torch a tortured soul, but also a misguided one; his urge to self-sacrifice neglects Blue’s right to choose her own life.
As Blue, Neufeld moves from fragile to enraged, and we truly believe that she would rather risk death than miss out on what little bit of life can be wrested from the mess that has become civilization.
Both Neufeld and Campfield play working-class New Yorkers quite well, never slipping out of the Afro-Asian-Italo-Irish blend that has become the accent of our greatest city.
And as a sadistically perverse guard, Sean Williams makes the most of his minor part, ramping up the tension between Torch and Blue while carrying himself matter-of-factly. It’s the sort of un-self-conscious abuse of power that makes prisons of any kind into hells.
Bill Voorhees, a director with experience in both stage and screen work, has outdone himself with this one, keeping a heartbreaking story from becoming a litany of woes. With stage manager Nick Heacock, Voorhees designed the light and sound, and it is dark and moody, but accurate. Heacock and Voorhees also did the set design, creating a very believable prisonlike room (no bars, but klieg lights and graffiti galore) in an odd-shaped space.
Beirut is a piece of work—and a very necessary one. It’s not that sex equals death—in fact, that’s patently untrue. Rather, Beirut questions our fear of the truth of sex: the way it drives us to seek a deep and serious connection to another person, and the way it makes us pay if we lie about it. The real plague in Beirut is dishonesty, fear and silence.
Be warned: There is violence, nudity, simulated sex, rough language and emotional pain.
In fact, it’s very much like life in the midst of plague.