Pink Orchids Credit: David Zak

In a 2016 column in the British gay magazine Attitude, playwright
Patrick Cash confessed to a dick move he committed early on in his dating
life, when he was 23 years old. After meeting and hooking up with “one of
the nicest people [he’d] ever met,” a 20-year-old man who disclosed his
HIV-positive status before initiating consensual and protected sex, Cash
gave in to fear and stigma the following morning. “His status was why I
didn’t call up the boy again.”

Cash has educated himself about the realities of HIV and the socially
harmful effects of misinformation in the years since, but when it comes to
pernicious and enduring attitudes levied against people who are poz, it
only takes a few seconds of scrolling through dating apps like Grindr or
Scruff to see still-normalized qualifiers like “DD-free” (“drug” and
“disease,” initials jammed together as if they’re one and the same moral
imperative) and, even more shudder-inducing, “clean guys only.”

Originally performed and published as The HIV Monologues, Cash’s Pink Orchids employs a series of speeches by fictional nurses,
artists, and lovers past and present to bridge the experience gap between
those who lived through the catastrophic HIV crisis era of the 80s and 90s
with the more protected, albeit still stigmatized poz community of today.

After connecting online, Alex (Jerome Beck) and Nick (Don Baicchi) meet and
quickly bond over their mutual interests: Harry Potter, Britney, and gay
porn. When Nick divulges his recent HIV diagnosis, Alex’s reaction—a
botched sitcom-style escape attempt through a bathroom window—sets off a
series of personal growth opportunities for both men. It’s a testament to
Beck’s stage presence and charismatic sweetness that his character’s
dismissive and cruel French exit doesn’t write him off to audiences
entirely—rather, Cash’s slight but moving one-act play sees him through to
a more accepting, more educated place.

Brennan T. Jones’s production, presented as one part of the five-play PAC
Pride Fest, features a number of tender, well-crafted direct-to-audience
addresses, including a stirring speech by Kathleen Puls Andrade as an AIDS
nurse facing down angry protesters. In another highlight, Nick recalls how
he only notices just how filthy he’s allowed his bathroom to become while
he’s stewed in a depressive crisis when he finds himself cowering and
sobbing in the shower. Bit by bit, he cleans away the dust and grime—
small but critical victory of self-love.

The Green Bay TreeCredit: David Zak

Like Pink Orchids, Amy L. Sarno’s production of The Green Bay Tree seems ripe for connecting the present with the
past-in this case, literally. Written by Mordaunt Shairp in 1933 and
adapted by Tim Luscombe, The Green Bay Tree is-or at least can
be-a fascinating study of the historic stereotype of the queer villain. A
wealthy and decadent man of leisure (Alexander McRae) “adopts” Julian
(Bradley Halverson), a much younger man, as his ward. Though a sexual or
romantic relationship is never made explicit, the two are clearly written
as a couple, a fact made even more clear by the older man’s rampant
jealousy once a woman enters the picture.

After coming of age, Julian announces his intention to marry a woman
(Kristen Alesia). She and his biological father (Gary Smiley) band together
to save him from the sinister paternal figure who is dead set on
imprisoning the boy in a gilded cage of his own.

This insanely problematic story (and you thought Call Me by Your Name was tricky territory) seems like great
material for a heavy-handed satirical take that comments on how far the
LGBTQ+ community has come from the stock characters of yore, or maybe it
could serve an earnest production that presents an academic study and
appreciation for 20th-century theater conventions.

It’s not clear exactly what vision Sarno had in mind—from casting (aside
from one of them having a shaved head, there’s little apparent age
difference between the older man and his ward) on down to the actors’
evident discomfort being off book, this production is more focused on
scraping by with the basics just to make it to the final curtain.

That’s particularly troublesome when it comes to the play’s comedic quips,
which—even when played to a decently filled house—were met with perplexed
silence on the night I attended. Inexplicably, long stretches of quiet
activities like tea tray setting and flower clipping result in a surreal,
fuguelike theatrical state akin to what it feels like to read the webcomic
Garfield Minus Garfield.   v