Though it’s no longer the death sentence it was 15 years ago, testing positive for HIV is still a complicated and confusing experience. Deciding how and when to come out to friends and lovers, selecting and adhering to treatments, and trying to live a normal life while stigma percolates our cultural fabric, has made the illness an ongoing set of complex decisions.
While a considerable canon of AIDS plays were produced in the pre-medication era, little has been written on the lives of HIV-positive people today, a reality playwright Christopher Wilson tackles in his new musical, Living with Henry.
After his diagnosis, Michael (Ryan Kelly) has to deal telling his best friend (Lizzie Kurtz), mother (Mary Kelly) and husband (Jay Davis). Throughout this process, Henry (David Silvestri), the virus personified as a jealous tough guy, haunts all of his interactions.
“Creating Henry as an external character allowed me to objectify the role of HIV in my day-to-day existence,” says Wilson, who has been living with HIV for 10 years. “In the play he becomes not just the virus, but the most present problem in any moment, whether that’s disclosure, rejection or a fear of loss.”
As the realities of HIV have changed, so has the gay community’s reaction to it. For many, the one-pill-a-day treatment protocol has led to a safer-sex malaise and a sharp upswing in barebacking. While the last generation of gay men saw value in protecting themselves and each other, many younger guys these days seem indifferent.
“This complacency troubles me,” Wilson says. “Although we have the medical means to keep the virus in check, there’s a myriad of social and economic implications. It’s not as easy a trip as you’d like to imagine it would be.”
Living with Henry
Next Stage theatre festival
Wed, Jan 4–Sun, Jan 15
125 Bathurst St