Ten Foot Pole Theatre and writer Rob Salerno are known for taking on political issues with a biting satirical edge. Their latest show at the Toronto Fringe Festival, RAW, tackles the issue of HIV disclosure versus personal responsibility.
James (Jason R. Stroud) learns he is HIV positive from an anonymous letter informing him that he has been exposed to the virus and should get tested. In a rage, he hunts down Stephen (Rob Salerno), the man James believes he contracted HIV from after they had unprotected sex together at a bathhouse.
James goes to Stephen’s apartment to confront him. The ensuing exchange between the two men drags the controversial and fractious debate about HIV disclosure within the gay community, and the associated stigma, versus personal responsibility, into the light.
How much responsibility does Stephen bear for not telling James about his HIV status, and how much does James bear for agreeing to having unprotected sex knowing the risks?
The issue is timely and relevant given the Province of Ontario’s recent position statement that HIV positive people should face criminal charges for not disclosing their status before sex, even when there is little risk of transmission.
Salerno’s script is compelling and smartly-written, deftly interweaving the personal and the political. Through his characters, he plunges the audience head-first into the debate but avoids bluntly proselytizing by presenting the issues in very human terms. He challenges the audience to really think about the issues and keeps us riveted throughout.
RAW isn’t a political salvo, Stroud and Salerno deliver superb performances crafting James and Stephen into fully fleshed-out characters, not metaphors. Our ability to empathize with them makes the issues they’re confronting feel personal and real.
Ten Foot Pole Theatre really hits the mark with RAW. It’s intelligent, funny and genuinely personal. It is political theatre that doesn’t beat you over the head, a poignant personal story without cloying sentimentality and it’s a definite must-see of this year’s Fringe festival.
- RAW plays at Venue 9, Robert Gill Theatre (214 College St. at St. George, 3rd Floor)
- Show times: July 06 11:00 PM, July 07 02:45 PM, July 09 08:45 PM, July 10 05:00 PM, July 11 11:30 PM, July 13 05:45 PM, July 14 12:00 PMs
- All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows
– Photo of Jason R. Stroud and Rob Salerno as James by Drasko Bogdanovic.