Aisle Seat

Truth or Dare
Andrew Alty's latest play, Something About Us, has its American premiere at New Conservatory Theatre this week. I had a chance to speak with Alty during his quick visit from the U.K. My first question, however, is not about the play, but about life in England under the notorious Clause 28, which prohibits local authorities from the "promotion" of homosexuality by, among other means, teaching in schools the acceptability of homosexuality as "a pretended family relationship." The act does not criminalize private behavior; it is the rights of homosexuals in public that are under attack (Can you say, "Don't ask, don't tell?"). "It's insidious, really," explains Alty. "It makes people think, 'Dare I talk about that?' It's about scaring people into keeping their mouths shut. It makes you very unsure about what you can say or do" -- a special problem for a gay playwright who wants to write about his own experiences.

Alty considers Something About Us his "most personal, most intimate play. It's very sexually frank. I wrote it for the Gay Sweatshop [in London], and they didn't want to do the sex scenes, because they were upfront, and quite daring, really. But the sex is not gratuitous; it's healing sex. Sex can be many things -- cruel or casual -- but in the play it's tender. We [men] think we have to be tough and hard. There is a great fear of feeling, of being tender." Something About Us explores, with humor and wrenching emotions, the depths of friendship and honesty in the face of disease, death, and shocking revelations. "The play is about shared experiences, about surviving it [life, illness, death] together. We need to share experiences. The play is not overtly political, although overcoming the fear that makes us silent is a political act. It's about people trying to cope. We [gay men] have been reluctant to look at ourselves critically, to explore those parts of our life we're confused about. We're floundering about, trying to make sense of our relationship with the virus. It's so easy to be afraid, so easy to try to run away, but we can't. We have to face AIDS as a community and fight it together. I'm not going to roll over and die for anyone. Our shared strength is very powerful."

Alty makes it clear, however, that Something About Us is not a political tract. He is a playwright, not a polemicist. "This play," he insists, "is a comedy, a dangerous, dark comedy." Alty is a firm believer in laughing in the face of death. "All you really need," he concludes, "is enough ground to stand on and a friend to laugh at it all with you." You will have a chance to meet the playwright at a reception following the opening performance on April 18. Call 861-8972.

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