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Masquerade

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In "Masquerade," Brian C. Petti provides a sensitive examination of the impact of AIDS on succeeding generations of gay men. He contrasts the scarred psyches of middle-aged survivors of the epidemic's initial horrors against the outwardly blithe attitudes of some younger men, who see the disease as tamed, something to be challeng for the sexually adventurous.

In his naturalistic script, which at times seems a scrupulously updated and reworked version of "The Boys in the Band," Petti tells of a surprise party hosted by a happily matched older couple, Hersh and Mario, for a younger friend, Doug, who has just been diagnosed HIV-positive. The party -- a masquerade with guests coming as favorite authors -- is to celebrate the fact that being HIV-positive is no longer a death sentence; that, as the characters tell us, "it's okay to laugh...that no one should live their life in fear." But the evening takes on a different color when Doug arrives with his mother in tow. Things become even darker when Peter, a neighbor suffering from the ravages of AIDS, turns up uninvited. But by party's end, the participants are sobered but not defeated, gaining from each other a sense of optimism.

Petti's writing hits some rough patches. The bitchy repartee occasionally falls flat but, on the whole, his script touches emotions and his characters have veracity. The acting, too, is uneven, but director Mary Geerlof has melded her nine-member cast into an effective ensemble, with especially fine work by Robert Resnikoff and John D'Arcangelo as the hosts who debate the party's appropriateness. Dan Domingues, masquerading as a Cervantes who looks like Zorro, contributes Douglas Fairbanks-type dash to the proceedings, while Kelly Tanner goes nicely from flip to compassionate as Mario's sister.

Production values are first-rate, with a special bow due set designer Michael Allen's picture-perfect depiction of an East Village apartment.

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