nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
June 7, 2009
Lying is infectious in James Comtois's Infectious Opportunity. It starts with a shrug of a shoulder, a nuanced reply that neither affirms nor denies an innuendo, suddenly there are rumors the lie may be true, and the ordinary guy becomes not so ordinary. Instead, he is an attraction for sympathetic women, needy men, professors who need to mentor, students dazzled by infirmity, and fans who want an idol to embrace. Who thought a life of illness could be so grand? Comtois turns the perception of HIV+ on its head and makes it the mandatory element in building a successful career. What's more, he does so convincingly and with nuance in a neatly structured, witty drama populated with a talented cast. What more can you ask for?
This amoral tale begins innocently enough. Wes, a film student, sympathizes with Rob, a classmate who is HIV+. He does so in a way that hints that he, too, has the virus. Subsequently, he accepts an invitation to accompany Rob to a support group meeting, where he meets Josie, a former heroin addict, who later serves as his conscience. The rumor spreads about Wes's illness, and suddenly he and his films—all based on his alleged HIV+ experience—are the latest rage. He drops illness-related comments at opportune times, manipulating sympathy from Josie and later his film students, commanding attention when it begins to wane, but most of all, harnessing professional prospects that would not have been available to him if he were the picture of health: first, from his film teacher, Professor Franklin; then from the media; and finally from the film industry. Wes takes it all, boxing himself into a corner without options.
The cast gives a fine performance. David Ian Lee is a natural as Wes, the con artist—the guy who blends in with a crowd, but always seems to be present when opportunities arise. Andrea Marie Smith counters with a sardonic, direct Josie. Daryl Lathon portrays an exuberant public relations rep, who gives a pivotal performance when Wes decides to do the right thing; showing remarkable command of his character is Matthew Trumbull as Professor Franklin, a schleppy teacher who tries to bask in his student's light, but only emits the social awkwardness of a friendless geek who spends too much time in dark movie theaters. Rebecca Comtois doubles as Jenny, one of Wes's film students, who tries to start an affair with him, and Moira, leader of the support group. Ronica Reddick is fine in all three of her roles: the flamboyant Professor Hale; Amanda, an angry HIV+ member of the support group; and Diane, Wes's film student. DR Mann Hanson fills out the cast as Rob, the one who effectively seduced Wes into his lie.
Comtois has cleverly structured the play like a film, with each scene designated a specific interior/exterior location. The dialog is smart and natural, even colloquial where appropriate, as in the illuminating part about "bug chasers," uninfected people who seek to get the virus. The brisk pace of this 90-minute play is attributable to Director Pete Boisvert. He also leverages pregnant pauses, maximizing great dilemmas to show the increased weight of Wes's lie as the drama progresses and to reverse course when it is least expected. He makes a good choice of keeping Wes's cell on speaker phone, eliminating the irritating ritual of excluding the audience every time it rings. Ian W. Hill's lighting gives the feel of a movie—keeping some characters in shadow while spotlighting others. Rebecca Comtois and Ben VandenBoom keep the set simple. In the small Brick Theater, two circular settees break up into easily movable parts as needed for classrooms, dorms, movie theater, hallway, etc. Appropriate costumes and props are the purview of Stephanie Cox-Williams, and Patrick Shearer created the successful sound design.