The punning subtitle of Test, a new program of six short plays by Cheryl King and William LoCasto premiering at this year's Left Out Festival, goes right to the heart of a difficult, complicated question. "Do you really want to know?" it asks. "Are you positive?"
The test in question is the new home HIV test, which was approved by the FDA last July. In Test, King and LoCasto imagine a variety of scenarios in which one or both members of a couple are testing themselves—and that word "testing" is exactly right, for these are trials of a very intense and personal nature. The importance of the play rests in its highlighting a significant societal milestone that, to the best of my knowledge, has so far gotten little play in the culture: AIDS remains a devastating disease that a lot of people—especially those too young to remember the catastrophic years of "plague" that dominated the theater scene in NYC for the better part of a decade—pay too little attention to. This new simple test can go a long way toward prevention.
The brilliance of the play is that it constantly surprises us, pulls us up short, startles and arrests and jolts. The obvious scenario for a play about the home HIV test, where a gay couple of long-standing must come to terms with the recent risky behavior of one or both, is nowhere to be found in Test. Instead, King and LoCasto remind us that all kinds of people will be using this test, and that it will conjure all kinds of disparate, complex emotions. I don't really want to give away who the characters of Test are; discover them for yourself when you see it or read it (Test is coming to Indie Theater Now soon). I will tell you that you will find many individuals to empathize with in this hour-long work of theatre, testament to the excellence of writing that consistently shirks cliche, two-dimensionality, or easy answers.
King has directed the piece with economy and intelligence, and she's brought together a top-notch cast who really inhabit the characters vividly; these actors take us on the frightening journey toward truth and knowledge as each of the play's couples await their results. King herself plays one of Test's three female characters, along with Michelle Ramoni and Mary Erwin; all three do a magnificent job mining the panic and very real fear of what may happen if the results prove positive. Joe Hutcheson, TC Corwin, and Jeremy Neal play heterosexual men of different ages and life situations, each bringing great insight and compassion to their portrayals. A diverse array of gay men are also represented (this is the Left Out Festival, after all), and they are played by Neal, KC Weakley, Donny Repsher, Peter Straus, and (in two different roles) Anthony Romeo. This ensemble is extraordinary.
It makes for a moving, thought-provoking, and (surprisingly, against the odds) funny evening—indisputably one of the most memorable theater experiences of 2013. Test lets you ponder, with these fascinating characters, what you might do if you discovered something as scary and life-changing about yourself as what the home HIV test reveals, along with the more telling question: Do you really want to know?