Monday, July 06, 2009

Infectious Opportunity

Photo/Aaron Epstein

And James Frey thought he was in hot water for exaggerating a few details in A Million Little Pieces? What of Wes Farley, then, from James Comtois's latest drama, Infectious Opportunity? "A Shoulder for the World to Cry On," which Wes based on his own HIV-positive life, is poised to win him an Oscar for Best Screenplay. At last, he'll get the recognition he thinks he deserves--but each interview and public appearance is a double-edged sword that may expose the lie he's perpetuated for the last ten years, may reveal that he pretended to be HIV-positive in order to game the system. The premise sounds positively Pahlaniuk, even more so once Comtois reveals--in the first five minutes--that Josie, a scathing redhead, is a figment of his guilt-riddled conscience. For better or worse, depending on the audience, Comtois isn't a cruel playwright; some might say he squanders this Opportunity, others will appreciate the way he chooses to coast along the dark comedy of the situation rather than to deal with the dramatic consequences.

On one level, it's certainly enjoyable: Comtois has a knack for mocking glib facades, like those of the entertainment industry. Wes (David Ian Lee), on his way to being a Hollywood hack, is self-centered, and his agent, Brent (Daryl Lathon), is brash and arrogant: "I'm gonna go fuck our stewardess: you need anything?" Professors are either nebbish or bombastic (Matthew Trumbull as the former, Ronica Reddick as the latter), and students are flirty foils (like Rebecca Comtois). So far as ghosts go, Josie (Andrea Marie Smith) is overbearing, but the reactions she gets out of Wes are priceless. Whether you accept the play as just a dark comedy or not, it's clear that neither Comtois nor his director, Pete Boisvert, have missed the opportunity to showcase their actors.

On the other hand, these cheap characters take their toll on the show. Jenny wants to sleep with her HIV-positive professor, ha-(awkward pause)-ha; Professor Franklin hires his former protege--OK, expository convenience. But this also taints what should be meaty flashbacks ("Let's Christmas Past this shit," says Josie). Wes had some sort of breakdown, which led him to possibly hook up with Rob (DR Mann Hanson), a talented film student colleague of his who, incidentally, he knew was HIV-positive. Rob dies--abruptly, and off-stage--but not before bringing Wes to a support group, where he meets and, presumably, falls for Josie. Would that these moments were fleshed out enough to earn our sorrow or sympathy. The mix of hope and fury in those flashbacks proves that Comtois has plenty of live rounds: he just prefers comic blanks.

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