Review by Byrne Harrison
Photos by Aaron Epstein
It all begins with one lie. A simple lie of omission - not even a lie, really, just a hint at something that you neither confirm nor deny, in order to get something you want. Surely, there won't be consequences on something so tiny, so innocent. How could there be when we are all guilty of the same little lies every day of our lives?
But what do you do if that lie suddenly opens doors? If it tempts you with an easy path to splendors you have coveted, but that you would otherwise spend years trying to achieve with no guarantee of success?
For Wes Farley (David Ian Lee) - screenwriter, activist, philanthropist, and person living with HIV - his tiny lie has spiraled out of control. The tiny lie? That he has HIV. At turns awestruck and jealous of Rob (DR Mann Hanson), a fellow film student with HIV, Wes allows him to think that he has HIV, too. Oddly enough, that lie provides him with a fast track to everything he wants - a degree, teaching position, and a string of movies.
Tortured by the fear that he will be exposed right as his star is ascending, Wes finds himself haunted by Josie (Andrea Marie Smith), a character from his critically acclaimed movie, "A Shoulder For the World To Cry On." Josie is based on a woman with whom Wes had a relationship, a former HIV+ heroin addict that he met in a support group. The relationship ended badly, and now Josie plays the part of his conscience. Or at least she tries. Tortured though he is, Wes is not going to give up everything he's been handed without a fight.
It's this fight between Wes and Josie, or really between Wes and himself, that forms the core of the dramatic action in Infectious Opportunity. Really, that's to be expected; it's Drama 101 - internal struggles make good drama. What Comtois is to be commended for is creating dramatic tension in the audience. Wes is doing something that any rational person would find deeply offensive. And yet, he's so damn sympathetic. Surely he has just let things spiral out of control through no fault of his own. We've all done it, albeit not on this scale. We just know that he will do the right thing in the end, because we see a little bit of ourselves in him, and we know that we would eventually do the right thing in the same situation. Comtois enables our sympathy every step of the way. He raises our expectations and knocks them down over and over again in this well-written play. He sets up red herrings that lull us into complacency and lead us smugly to decide that we've figured out his play. Then he smacks us across the face and shows us that he still has surprises up his sleeve. Like any good roller coaster ride, Infectious Opportunity leaves the audience with a racing heart, exhilarated, and a little bit nauseated.
The acting is superb, especially on the part of David Ian Lee and Andrea Marie Smith. While Smith at times seems a little too well-adjusted for someone who spent her life on the street as a heroin addict, she is playing a Hollywood version of the real Josie, so it actually works. Lee does a marvelous job eliciting the audience's sympathy and disgust for Wes, and he strikes the perfect note in the last monologue of the play, which is one of those moments that shouldn't be spoiled by giving away too much in a review. Suffice it to say, the last two sentences of the play are chilling thanks to Comtois' script and Lee's portrayal.
Each of the other actors has a moment to shine in the play. Rebecca Comtois shines as Jenny, one of Wes' star-struck students. Hanson is marvellous as Rob, Wes' film school rival and HIV mentor. Daryl Lathon, Ronica Reddick, and Matthew Trumbull round out the excellent cast.
Pete Boisvert directs with a steady hand, keeping the action moving and choreographing tight scene changes that make use of Rebecca Comtois and Ben VandenBooms wonderfully versatile set pieces, while not interrupting that building tension of the play. Ian W. Hill's lighting design and Patrick Shearer's sound design complement the play nicely.
Although Infectious Opportunity has completed its official run as part of the Antidepressant Festival, it is one of three productions from the festival (along with Adventure Quest and Suspicious Package Rx both of which have been added to the Game Play Festival) to have been extended. The final two performances of Infectious Opportunity will be July 19th at 3 PM and July 21st at 8 PM. As part of the Antidepressant Festival, Infectious Opportunity was selling out, so buy your tickets early.
Written by James Comtois
Directed by Pete Boisvert
Stage Manager: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Set Designers: Rebecca Comtois, Ben VandenBoom
Sound Designer: Patrick Shearer
Lighting Designer: Ian W. Hill
Costume & Prop Designer: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Makeup Designer: Leslie E. Hughes
Composer: Itai Sol
Producers: Pete Boisvert, James Comtois, Rebecca Comtois, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Patrick Shearer
Associate Producers: Marc Landers, Ben VandenBoom
Featuring: David Ian Lee (Wes), Andrea Marie Smith (Josie), Rebecca Comtois (Jenny/Moira/Interviewer/Student), DR Mann Hanson (Mark/Rob), Daryl Lathon (Brent/Student), Ronica Reddick (Professor Hale/Amanda/Diane/Interviewer/Student), Matthew Trumbull (Professor Franklin/Dude).
The Brick Theatre
575 Metropolitan Avenue