08 July 2011

Living With Henry

Well, I had a lovely evening tonight. After a very productive committee meeting day in the Queen City (despite my well-known anti-monarchist views), I joined my colleagues from PositiveLite for a lovely casual dinner and a play at the Toronto Fringe. Then three of us went off for dessert…er, desserts…in the Village. Shall we focus on the play, then? May contain spoilers!

Living With Henry bills itself as a musical drama that explores the fear, complications and realities of living with HIV/AIDS. It does those things, and does them from the perspective of a protagonist who is still living at the end with his life and its challenges stretched out before him. In that sense, it is very contemporary and not at all the tragic portrayal of HIV that we are used to seeing (or we were, before HIV faded into obscurity for those in the developed world not intimately connected to it).

Several things struck me as being a bit unrealistic, given my own experiences. Having ignored his doctor's advice to start treatment and giving up on his medical follow-up, he finds himself at the hospital with PCP pneumonia (an AIDS-defining illness) and a low CD4 count. Readers of this blog might find that story familiar, as that was actually the situation of my diagnosis, except that I had 4 CD4s and this guy had 7 (twice as healthy?). Oh yeah, and I wasn't threatened with a tracheotomy and a month flat on my back in the hospital, but a simple oral antibiotic and a single overnight to help me get my oxygen levels up after the bronchoscopy. I also didn't emerge after my recovery to announce that I no longer had AIDS (HIV positive again), but now rather pronounce the irrelevance of the AIDS label in a world where one's health can come and go and come back again. These, however, are minor elements in a play that I enjoyed immensely and I can entirely understand the dramatic importance of exaggerating this small moment in the play to communicate the seriousness of the disease.

Overall, I would have to agree with one of my companions: the message was a bit simple for people who are involved in the HIV movement. But it really is a useful message for those whose familiarity with things HIV is at a lower level.

I really did enjoy the play. I don't always like musicals, and I can't say I liked all of the music in this one, but there were a number of beautiful songs, clever duets and snappy tunes that still told the story as it need to be. And the dancing! There was some really good choreography, and I was howling with laughter during the bathhouse tango number. The other double-entendre dance moment was his doctor dancing with the Sustiva and the Truvada, and dancing like she was a part of the number.

But the best thing for me was the dramatic device of personifying HIV and the very excellent job that Dale Miller did playing the part. The whole cast was very strong, but this stood out for me as the combination of the device and the performance. He was there, interfering and touching, sometimes just watching or staring down the main character. I'm not doing it justice with my description, but I can't stop repeating how good that was. Of course, the downside of that from a prevention viewpoint was that he looked so cuddly, one would want to have him around, which is not exactly the idea that the movement is fighting for.

I also appreciated that at the end the main character has a very interesting coming to terms with his status. Here the play portrays something about the relationship between HIV and the people who carry it that I have heard described in many a testimonial.

If you're in Toronto between now and 17 July, you should definitely go see this play. Check out the times and other information on the play at their website. Additional photos stolen from PositiveLite.com: thanks Bob!

A little extra comment worth adding, at least as an aside. Attached to each program was the AIDS Committee of Toronto's Pig Pac – a pack of two lubes and two condoms – that bears a message that has proven to be somewhat controversial here:

"It's your choice!

We believe that sex is a spectrum
of possibilities. From pig sex to
vanilla. Bareback to wrapped.

We've got information and
sex positive tips to make your
choices safer and more rewarding.


For those who decry the effort to reach out and include those who define themselves as barebackers, I can only shake my head in disappointment. No one ever succeeded in communicating a message and winning someone over by starting with judgement and condemnation. Bravo to ACT for being inclusive!


Edelweiss&Enzian said...

I think I love your blog!
Follow you now, follow me back?

Ken Monteith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Monteith said...

Well, thank you Edelweiss & Enzian. I don't understand German, so I am not able to read your blog! :-(

I encourage any of my readers who do read German to check it out and follow you.