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SICK: A CHAMBER OF HORRORS

Sarah B. Hood

Aptly named, this “chamber of horrors” challenged the audience on all fronts. Action began in the antechamber, where audience members could choose to enter the (closed) theatre door, or wait to be rudely sent in. A white-gowned woman proffered a noxious-looking drink at the door. Some chairs were available; many audience members climbed scaffolds to perch watching the action - taking place all over the room – from above.

Some who sat in chairs were forced to move from them during the performance (which ran two hours, with no intermission). Once the show was underway actors nailed the exits shut.

Incorporating DNA’s last show, The Panel, actors played members of a panel discussing AIDS, with opportunities for audience involvement. The second section took the form of a bingo game with AIDS-related medical disorders instead of chips.
   
Meanwhile semi-random pieces of business occurred: a beverage cart was wheeled out, a tap-dancing drag ballerina performed. When the black ball symbolizing the disease itself was selected, the action changed to a series of dramas about AIDS: a young man weeps on the phone telling a friend that he’s HIV-positive. A woman kills herself before a portrait of Christ, denouncing the “justice” that dooms those to death who choose not to live dully. One man is tied up, spread-eagled and naked, with a vice around his penis. Another dies, incoherent and in misery, in a hospital bed hooked up to machines. These performances were accompanied by long periods of total darkness, loud amplified classical music, flashes of light, screams, and most of the other imaginable attributes of a “chamber of horrors.”

Although daring in its conception and presentation, Sick struck me as self-indulgent and ultimately less successful than The Panel. Its excesses may be taken as a metaphor for AIDS itself; yet the subject - which is certainly a grim and terrifying one - was played for so much melodrama that it seemed out of scale with the many other horrors and injustices of human life. The play’s sensationalism even made it seem somewhat disrespectful to people dealing with AIDS in fact rather than fiction.

Theatrum #24
June-August 1991