REVIEW: Beirut (Park Theatre) ★★★

This 1986 play by American writer Alan Bowne is an intense two-hander starring Louise Connolly-Burnham as Blue and Robert Rees as Torch.

Torch is living in a squalid room on the Lower East Side; an area nicknamed Beirut. A lethal blood disease is spreading through New York City, a viral infection spread through all bodily fluids including sweat, saliva and semen. In an effort to contain the disease, the authorities have quarantined carriers, who are tattooed with a “P” and subject to regular “lesion checks”.

Blue, Torch’s girlfriend, has managed to make her way into the quarantined area and up to his room, proudly sporting a stick on “P” tattoo in an effort to evade detection and some fancy underwear. Blue is keen to rekindle their fragile romance, while Torch is keenly aware of the potential death sentence he can deliver to her.

Blue works hard to break down Torch’s resolve, while Torch tries to stay strong and send her back to the world outside the quarantine area. However, out there is a moratorium on sex and cameras are everywhere to catch lawbreakers. As their conversation evolves, Blue argues that it is Torch who, while imprisoned, is in fact the one with greater freedom. Within the quarantined area people are free to fall in love and engage in physical contact. Blue questions how you can really be alive without love or at least without sex.

This is an intense play obviously written in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York. While horrific to consider now, it is easy to imagine that for the author this dystopian nightmare was the most likely outcome given the American authorities slow, homophobic response to the disease.

Connolly-Burnham and Rees put in strong performances, but there is a distinct lack of chemistry. The play is dealing with a knife-edge, life and death situation, but the intensity one would expect from a desperate young couple working out whether to go over a cliff together is simply not there.

Reviewed by Kirsty Heath
Photo: Loranc Sparsi


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