Spencer Korcz & Leila Toba. Photo: Tilted Crown Theatre Company.
By Alan Bowne
Directed by Scott Davis
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In a room that looks less like a prison cell than an abandoned tenement building, a young man named Torch sleeps on a bare mattress, eating cold food from cans and furtively reacting to warning sirens from outside.
Torch’s isolation is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of his girlfriend, Blue. His shock and outrage at seeing her stems from the fact that has been quarantined against his will for testing positive for a deadly virus transmitted through bodily fluids. Outside of this grungy room, the United States has been so devastated by the epidemic that the government has outlawed sex and banished anyone who tests positive to restricted zones patrolled by guards who barge in to check for lesions, a brutal and degrading humiliation.
So Blue is willfully violating the law with the intention of reuniting with Torch sexually and emotionally, whatever the risk. Both are tortured souls, and their interaction is rough and uneasy. They have to fight for tenderness and intimacy on every level, and the exposed skin in the production is the farthest thing from titillation.
Beirut is grim stuff, and the playwright wisely keeps the dark story contained within a tense one-act timeframe. He is clearly talking about the catastrophic AIDS crisis of the 1980s (the play originated in 1986), but the scenario doesn’t feel dated. Perhaps that is because post-apocalyptic narratives are all the rage since the turn of the century so that we as an audience have been tuned in to the metaphorical and allegorical power of imagining the destruction of the current society. Hope becomes difficult to imagine.
The power of the piece comes from that struggle to cling to possibilities, to not give up. The set is oppressive and the lighting is low. The only bright light is the harsh, blinding flashlight from the pervert guard conducting a lesion inspection.
Jimmy Bohr plays that low-life character perfectly, and Spencer Korcz and Leila Toba embrace the raw qualities of the scene with little reservation. The fear, shame, and intimacy of the piece are communicated effectively through the performances, which ask for no easy sympathy.
All of which makes Beirut not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are not afraid of the darkness, this is a unique and thought-provoking night of theatre.
January 11-13,18-20 @ 8:00 PM
Tilted Crown Theatre Company
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.