Roz and Ray, Karen Hartman’s remarkable one-act play about a nearly forgotten aspect of the ’80s AIDS epidemic, accomplishes what the best dramas do: smacks us in the face with important history by taking us inside the decisions of those who are living it.
Ray is a single father to twin boys with hemophilia. Roz is their doctor. Life for the boys and Ray is a series of emergency room visits and long, exhaustive transfusions. When Factor VIII, a new blood-clotting medicine, is marketed to physicians like Roz and the hemophiliac community, it seems a miracle. Roz teaches the boys how to inject it at home.
But no one could have predicted what was in the blood that makes Factor VIII. The fact that hundreds of gay men are simultaneously dying of a mysterious illness seems completely unrelated.
Everyone responded with an ordinary pace to an extraordinary situation.
I am amazed at how powerfully and deeply these stories can be told by two characters in a 90-minute play. Actor Teagle F. Bougere plays Ray Leon, and he gives a taut performance imbued with faith, love and rage. Ellen McLaughlin is Roz, the physician whose devotion to the boys leads to a deep and dangerous relationship with their father. She’s full of a doctor’s certainty and care, and then the most unsteady doubt and guilt.
Director Chay Yew, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, is a master both of writing and directing dialogue that is clean and tight, which propels the story without flab.
Randy Shilts, author of And the Band Played On, described how the nation reacted to the AIDS crisis by saying, “Everyone responded with an ordinary pace to an extraordinary situation.”
Ray and Roz are in an extraordinary situation, trying every option to save two kids they love. One option turns out to be wrong. The juxtaposition of healthcare bureaucracy and its commercial blood-thirst for profits alongside the circumstances facing the hemophiliac community in the ’80s makes it all the more poignant. What a marvelous historical space this was for playwright Hartman to create such a compassionate human story.
Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming. His credits include PIE, Something in the Water (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase. Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.More stories by Stephen Hegg