Audience members at left the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s Renberg Theatre this weekend thinking differently about a virus that has killed nearly 30 million people around the world since 1981.
Written by Eric Rofes and Alex Garner, with additions by Brody Brown and Joel Martinez, the play follows the lives of HIV-positive gay men between the ages of 20 and 50.
“Our five actors . . . talk about different slices of their lives—from how they got infected to dating, to sex and all the things that guys with HIV go through these days," said Tony Valenzuela, executive director of Lambda Literary Foundation, which presented the play with LA-based HIV/AIDS education project The Wall-Las Memorias. "There is an older guy, gay men of color, a white guy—all with different personalities."
The LA production, co-sponsored by the city of West Hollywood, fell on the 30th anniversary of the first AIDS diagnosis, which held special meaning for the play's producers.
“The show was set to be planned for June, but wasn’t intentionally planned to line up with the anniversary,” said Eddie Martinez, a co-producer of the play and a member of The Wall–Las Memorias Project. “I think God somehow made sure that this play happened this weekend, so we could have that awareness, that discussion, and to remind people that HIV/AIDS is still on this planet."
Valenzuela was also proud to be able to spend the 30th anniversary honoring friends, lovers and family members who have died in the epidemic.
“These stories are about survival and perseverance," Valenzuela said. "People can live almost an average life span. Being able to sort of relay that message on this weekend is all the more poignant.”
On Sunday before the show, attendees gathered in the theater courtyard to enjoy refreshments and conversation. The play kicked off around 7 p.m., and was followed by a brief panel discussion with the cast members and producers of the show.
“What do you tell a 21-year-old boy or young man that contracts HIV today? Do you tell them to live HIV/AIDS the rest of your life? No," said Martinez. "There comes a point after sadness, guilt, anger that you got to tell that individual you should live life to the fullest and you should be proud of who you are and that’s what we need to do."
Martinez sees The Infection Monologues as a way to help rid the community of stereotypes surrounding gay men. "If phobia and stigma still exist within our community, that shows that we have a lot of work to do," he said.
Proceeds from The Infection Monologues benefited The Wall-Las Memorias Project and the Lambda Literary Foundation.