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In Sickness and in Health

 

On June 5, 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report describing cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), in five gay men in Los Angeles — all of whom were young and previously healthy. The men exhibited other unusual infections, which did not bode well for their immune systems. By the time the report was published, two of the five young men had died. 

This is widely considered the first official report of what would become known as the AIDS epidemic. It was 35 years ago — a span of time all too haunting and memorable for many of us. Cultural shifts have allowed the level of public conversation and acceptance of the disease to rise. But flesh and blood — and the internal and external violence brought upon those among us with AIDS — is immediate, and threatened day to day. Science and medicine, while improving every year, can feel all too slow to catch up.

In recognition of the 35th year of the AIDS crisis, and to honor the work of the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, the Latchis Theatre in downtown Brattleboro presents a benefit called “A Weekend to Remember & Celebrate… Life, Loss, Love.” The main event on Saturday night is a one-night-only performance of the 1989 show Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, the first piece written about the AIDS crisis. The show, which debuted in 1989 at the Ohio Theatre in Manhattan’s SoHo district before moving on to London, is built on monologues written from the perspective of characters who have died from AIDS, echoing the feelings of friends and family members dealing with the loss.

Sam Maskell directs the song cycle with a cast of 27 singers and actors from Vermont and New Hampshire, featuring choreography, music by Janet Hood, and lyrics by Bill Russell. The show is followed on Sunday by a free 4 p.m. screening of the 1955 film All That Heaven Allows, which stars Rock Hudson — the first major Hollywood star to go public with an AIDS diagnosis. Both events are sponsored by The Samara Fund, which works to create a safe, vibrant, and empowered LGBTQ community in Vermont.

 

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. $20-$75. Lathis Theatre, 50 Main St., Brattleboro. (802) 246-1500, theater.latchis.com, elegiesvt.com.

— Hunter Styles