Straight as a Line, Goodman Theatre Studio. What’s most impressive about Luis Alfaro’s portrayal of a gay man battling with HIV is the playwright’s subtle touch. Alfaro chooses his words–and his battles–carefully. Eschewing the unfortunate soapbox moralizing that generally accompanies this sort of politically charged topic, he concentrates instead on the young man’s often antagonistic relationship with his loopy, eccentric mum. At once selfish and sensitive, Alfaro’s two characters are bound by family ties and a mutual fear of rejection and loneliness. Playing Paulie and Mum, Goodman vets Guy Adkins and Linda Kimbrough display a remarkable chemistry onstage. As finely etched as Alfaro’s characters are, these actors’ complex, acid-laced performances add even more facets to the playwright’s wayward pair.

At the script’s weakest points, Alfaro’s intent is either too apparent or too subdued. The final scene comes dangerously close to being maudlin, and the recurrent vaudeville-style joking about Paulie’s impending death is confusing. Alfaro trusts his characters to maintain a bittersweet tone, but he doesn’t entirely trust them when it comes to keeping the narrative from derailing. True, the play’s subject is turbulent, but the frequent blackouts and scene changes give the production an unnecessarily choppy quality.

Still, Straight as a Line is an undeniably bold piece of theater; and the capable hands of Adkins, Kimbrough, and director Henry Godinez only make it stronger.

–Nick Green