Last season, playwright Michael Aman scored a Carbonell nomination for his new play, “Poz,” at Island City Stage in Wilton Manors. Next month, the LGBT-centric company will premiere his latest comedy, “Feeding the Bear.”
“I love Island City Stage…what they’re doing for gay theater is astounding,” said Aman. “It’s a great stage space in which to premiere a new play. A lot of theaters don’t know how to do new works.”
“Feeding the Bear” actually got its first informal reading in between performances of “Poz,” during the play’s run in 2014.
“I was thrilled when they said they wanted to do the premiere,” Aman, associate professor at The College of Westchester in White Plains, N.Y.
For this play, Aman drew from the experiences of a friend, as well as his own father’s struggles with dementia and the stress such a condition places on both the afflicted and their families.
The play’s protagonist is a gay, single teacher with body dysmorphia, a mental disorder characterized by a preoccupation with minor or imaginary physical flaws. He is also the caretaker for his once disapproving father, suffering from Alzheimer’s, the “bear” referenced in the play’s title.
Rounding out the crazy cast of characters are his divorced sister and a TV chef who appears in drag, decked out in the national costumes of the country’s cuisine she is preparing. They join him on the journey to better understand both his flaws and the feelings of his father.
The cast includes the company’s producing artistic director Andy Rogow, Niki Fridh, Kevin Reilley and Johnny Bowls. Associate artistic director Michael Leeds directs.
“Michael chooses subjects that are topical and challenging, and then delves into them with insight, humor and compassion,” explained Leeds. “Baking a cake and preparing a chicken with mole sauce on stage are just two of the challenges I’m facing in directing this play.”
“I write serious subjects, but I get scared of being heavy handed,” added Aman, whose last play dealt with a tuberculosis patient who considers infecting himself with HIV to qualify for free health care.
He was recently reminded of the horrors of Alzheimer’s and dementia who related a disturbing story about his father’s struggles.
“It’s probably in the writing someplace,” Aman said, recalling a visit to the family farm just a few months ago.
Aman’s father, a lifelong farmer who was forced to sell his farm to a younger brother, had to watch in horror as his barn was torn down.
“The father in the play is imagining a conversation with his wife and she’s talking about tearing down the barn. It symbolizes the horror (my dad) must have felt,” he said.
For those who have been forced to care for an aging parent or relative and other who deal with mental health issues, Aman promised, “I wanted it to be an exploration of the issues we have in our heads—our own mental issues, how we learn to accept ourselves and, in so doing, accept others.”
Island City Stage will host panel discussions after the shows on June 12 and 19 with medical professionals and organizations specializing in eldercare, Alzheimer’s and body dysmorphia.
Island City Stage presents Michael Aman’s “Feeding the Bear,” Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. beginning June 2. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.