AIDS awareness hits home with play

FAMU’s Essential Theatre is reaching out to students and families to alert them about the rise of HIV/AIDS in the black community before this epidemic hits them close to home.

The theatre will produce “Before It Hits Home”, an award-winning play created by Cheryl L. West, which deals with the affects of the AIDS virus on a black family.

Valencia E. Matthews, who serves as director of the play and as chair of the Department of Visual Arts, Humanities and Theatre, teaches this play in her theatre classes each semester and has wanted to produce the play for five years now.

“There aren’t a lot of plays that will focus on AIDS in the black community. The play shows how we as a black people deal, or don’t deal with AIDS,” Matthews said.

The play is about a black bisexual jazz musician, Wendal, who has AIDS and has chosen to keep the virus and his sexuality a secret.

These secrets put Wendal, his pregnant fiancée Simone, his lover Douglas, Douglas’ wife and children, and Wendal’s teenage son and parents in danger.

The play strongly focuses on the relationships within the family. It shows how the different people in the family deal with AIDS.

Some of the family don’t understand the virus and bisexuality. With that came many misunderstandings, which in turn pose to break up the family.

In reference to the misunderstandings that arise in the play, Matthews said, “The audience needs to try to understand where they’re coming from instead of judging them.”

The play uses adult language and situations to help the audience relate to its subject matter.

Statistics are also included to give the audience an idea of the number of African Americans affected by the virus.

“West uses a wonderful, strong sense of language that is natural and appropriate for the play,” Matthews said.

“(In regards to the statistics mentioned in the play) There are African-Americans who don’t believe in them, but even if the numbers are off, we have to believe them and deal with it.”

“Before It Hits Home” was West’s first major play. In 1991 and 1992, the play was produced again in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

According to Essence Magazine, Spike Lee was “so moved by the play” that he bought the screen rights.

“West was bold in 1989 to address the issue of AIDS in the way that she did,” said Matthews. “The author deals with reality…and we are at a point where we have to deal with it (AIDS).”

West was born and raised in Chicago. She holds undergraduate and advanced degrees in criminal justice, rehabilitation administration and journalism.

She has produced another play called “Jar the Floor”, and is also the author of “Puddin ‘n Pete, Play On,” and “Holiday Heart.”

“Holiday Heart” was filmed for Showtime in 2000 and starred Ving Rhames and Alfre Woodard. West has been commissioned to write screenplays for PBS’s Great Performances series and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

West dedicates “Before It Hits Home” to “those who have to hide and to those who refuse to.”

“People don’t think it can happen to them, because it always happens to ‘someone else’. They need to realize that they can be that someone else,” Matthews said.

“Before It Hits Home” will be showing February 13-17, in the Charles Winter Wood Theatre in Tucker Hall.

Show times are: Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. FAMU students are admitted free with ID.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and $5 for non-FAMU students.

Directly following the Feb. 16 matinee performance a community forum, “When AIDS Hits Home: A Family Affair,” will be held.

This is the second community forum about AIDS sponsored by the Essential Theatre, Department of History, Political Science and African American studies, student government, and the FAMU Public Health Institute. For further information, please call 850-561-2425.