Presented by Fresco Productions and the University of Miami as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Schaeberle Studio Theatre at Pace University, 41 Park Row, NYC, Aug. 13-21.
Written and directed by Stephen J. Svoboda, "Odysseus Died From AIDS" skillfully weaves Homer's epic with a modern-day, larger-than-life journey. With creative use of minimal sets—three hospital screens and a bed—and well-placed allusions, he powerfully captures the dignity of people living with AIDS.
Led by an unlikely hero, these AIDS patients transcend the gloom of sickness and death to take their inevitable voyage. Elliot Hayes (the ingenious John Bixler) arrives at the hospital with his overbearing mother. As his mother berates the nurse and doctor, he writes everything down in his journal. Despite his mother's objections, he stays for tests for a swelling of his brain that is seriously damaging his ability to speak. Later on, he learns that he has only days to live.
Elliot imagines himself as Odysseus. The nurse encourages this alter ego to keep him there, saying, "Stay here and you'll be a hero." He engages another patient in his fantasy—Resean, a flamboyant "transsexual lesbian"—asking her to participate as the goddess Athena. Elliot also discovers the young Adam (Adam Perabo), who is suffering violently from the disease and nearing his end, and quickly falls for him.
Notwithstanding interference from Adam's mother, Elliot asks the patients to participate in a mock wedding between him and Adam. Afterwards, he disconnects Adam's life-support machines and releases him from his suffering.
The last few minutes, narrated by Elliot's mother, transform the hospital bed into a small ship with white masts as the couple sails home.
Kat Lower is the dedicated Nurse Dorothy. Brett Friedmann is bitter as Nick, who loses his sight. Randall Pollard is endearing as Resean. Maha McCain is capable as a long-term patient. Ariana Shore captivates as Elliot's mother. Lindsey Erdahl, Christian Mansfield, and Matthew Harrell fill supporting roles.