Watchdog…and a vision like saint Paul’s, Infectious Productions, at Cafe Voltaire. This 1990 one-act explodes with the rage of ACT UP, the fearsome, now fragmented radical AIDS group. Playwright Madrid Saint Angelo, who directs this Chicago premiere, is an AIDS activist who was indicted for, but not convicted of, organizing a plot to kill the Pope. And you can taste his love/hate affair with the Catholic faith in this play. Joey, a 25-year-old HIV-positive man, is about to kill himself when he’s visited by Watchdog, a hate-mongering messenger from God in a hideous leisure suit. Insisting that AIDS is God’s punishment for Donna Summers’s disco fever, Watchdog all but congratulates Joey on his imminent self-murder. Joey gets even less help from a profane Virgin Mary. Only Carol, his nagging but loyal Bronx mother, offers love to try to beat the virus. But as Watchdog announces, there’s no hope of help from heaven or government.

Raw and confrontational, Watchdog is just a step away from guerrilla street theater. At its best it conveys the panic and isolation of living with AIDS, at the cost of making Joey seem very much a victim. Brian Schlanger, Mary Kathryn Bessinger, and Brian Miles declaim the parts of Watchdog, Carol, and Joey with infectious immediacy. But as theater this polemical piece says little that Angels in America didn’t convey ten times more truly. Moreover, its bleak assessment of AIDS as a death sentence suddenly seems suspect, after the hopeful news from last month’s Vancouver AIDS conference.

–Lawrence Bommer