On and off stage, play sparks dialogue about HIV/AIDS

Akiba Abaka | 10/22/2008, 5:08 a.m.
Ramona Lisa Alexander performs the role of Mama in this photo from Up You Mighty Race Theatre Company’s recent presentation of “In the Continuum.” Community talk back sessions following performances at the Boston Center for the Arts focused on black men, the black church and the way they deal have with HIV/AIDS. Craig Bailey/Perspective

Lawrence Dalton was a successful musician who had every reason, he believed, to cheat on his wife.

Like many other heterosexual African American men, he said he felt the invincibility of youth, success and the attractiveness of being the alpha male capable of keeping women at home and on the side.

But everything has its price. On one evening in 1996, Dalton said he received a telephone call that changed his life. His girlfriend told him that she had tested positive for HIV.

“At that point, I had to make the most difficult call I have ever had to make in my life,” Dalton said. “I had to call my wife and tell her to get tested.”

Dalton told his story during a recent community talk back after a performance of “In the Continuum,” a play combining two stories written by female graduate students addressing the effect that HIV/AIDS has had on their respective cultures, at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Promiscuity was a key topic.

While a change in behavior after being diagnosed can help reduce the rate of infection, those who know their status carry other burdens.

“You have to understand,” Dalton said. “Once sisters know your status, it does affect your love life. I make sure — once I see the relationship is going in that direction — that I tell sisters up front that I am HIV-positive.”

While Dalton feels comfortable with disclosing his status to his partners, former Broadway actor greg-eugene finds it more important to emphasize practicing safe sex. eugene is openly gay and has been living with full-blown AIDS for the last 12 years.

 ”It’s not easy for everyone to disclose, and I don’t think that everyone should have to disclose,” he said. “ I think it’s more important — for me, at least — to say to a brother, ‘Hey, man, listen: We going to do this thing safe tonight?’ If he’s not with that, then it doesn’t go any further than that, but it’s not easy for everyone to disclose.

“I think a lot of people think of AIDS as a death sentence, but it’s more of a chronic illness,” he added. “I am very healthy — I take yoga classes, I swim, I eat well. Being fearful and being scared to get tested means that when it does show up in your system, it might be too far gone. It’s better to catch it early.”

eugene works for the Multicultural AIDS Coalition and encounters a spectrum of men in his daily outreach work.

“… The whole purpose is to raise awareness and have black men take some ownership,” he said. “A lot of brothers think that if you mention HIV, that makes a person gay. We had a brother who we gave a pamphlet with a man on it and he said, ‘No, man — if you want to get my attention, you have to have something with women on it.’ And I said, ‘No, man — we are talking about black men and black men’s health.’”