Review: Contradictions At Heart of World Premiere Play

Playwright Michael Aman is the first to admit he is “attracted” to inherent contradictions in his work.

Earlier this year, his play, “The Unbleached American” told the story of a black man at the turn of the 20th century who made his fortune composing minstrel songs that are seen as the epitome of internalized racism of the period.

And the New Yorker is putting the finishing touches on another play, “Feeding the Bear,” about a gay middle aged man who suffers from body dysmorphia and is forced to care for an elderly father with Alzheimer’s Disease who fed his irrational body consciousness.

But, this weekend, South Florida audiences will be introduced to the ultimate contradiction, when Aman’s play, “Poz,” receives its world premiere by Island City Stage at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale.

Set more than a decade ago when HIV treatments were less effective, the play follows the efforts of a young man suffering from leukemia who decides the only way to obtain health care is to become infected with the AIDS virus that was still indiscriminately killing thousands each year.

“To live, he must be infected by a deadly virus,” the playwright pointed out. “That’s certainly a contradiction.”

But, the play explores larger emotions, particularly as the young man develops an emotional attachment with the older man he desperately seeks to infect him with HIV.

“In the bigger picture, the play is about the desperation to live and a hunger for love,” Aman explained on the phone while traveling back to the city from the country home he shares with his husband in the Hudson Valley.

Even though the play could be seen as a “period piece” set in the years before the Affordable Care Act and breakthrough HIV therapies, the themes are bigger, he argues.

Local audiences had an opportunity to see Aman at work, when Island City presented two open rehearsals for the public. With a chuckle, Aman notes the play is much shorter now, after Tony-nominated and Carbonell-winning director Michael Leeds got through with his script. Tweaks were still being made days before the opening.

“We’ve made changes this morning,” Aman said. “Michael Leeds is a night person, so he’d write comments after rehearsals and I’m a morning person and would write him back with changes.”

No one is happier to have Island City Stage premiering the work than Aman. Perhaps, it was even karma that artistic director Andy Rogow ran across a notice of a reading of the play and snapped up the rights to premiere the new work, as part of the company’s mission to serve South Florida’s LGBT and allied community.

Aman started writing plays while teaching music in a school. He wanted to stage a musical and could find appropriate works for the youngest and older classes, but had to write his own show for the middle group of students.

Internationally-acclaimed playwright Dan Clancy, who also got his start writing plays for his students, saw the musical and encouraged Aman to continue. Last year, Island City Stage practically swept the Carbonell Awards with a stunning production of Clancy’s “The Timekeepers.”

Aman has since moved on, and now teaches university students at the College of Westchester. The school operates on a trimester calendar and he strives to write a new work during each of the three week breaks, most often at that Hudson Valley retreat.

“I like to light a fire, smoke a cigar and listen to the characters talk to me,” explained Aman.

This weekend, Aman’s compelling characters will speak to sold out audiences at the intimate Empire Stage. Many shows are already sold out as anticipation builds for the world premiere of “Poz.”

Island City Stage’s world premiere production of Michael Aman’s “Poz” opens Thursday, Oct. 23 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 23 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale. Show times are Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets are $30 at IslandCityStage.org.


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