By Jesse Garcia
Love isn’t just love and AIDS isn’t something you can run away from in Cheryl West’s “Before It Hits Home.” Don’t believe me? Experience it yourself in this play that will immerse you in the story of a loving family struggling with extraordinary circumstances, as well as pull at every heart string while examining the terrible toll at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
First produced in 1990, the play dives into the untold hardships of a black bisexual jazz musician confronted with a sickness and homosexuality he and his family pray to deny. But, after an encounter with his doctor who threatens to intervene if he doesn’t share his diagnosis with his partners, he is left with no choice but to face the truth.
With a dominant and powerful cast that commands the audience’s attention with every word spoken and emotion felt, “Before It Hits Home” captures the daunting affect AIDS had on one otherwise happy African-American family in 1990s Ohio.
The same can be said about director Donis Leonard’s production of “Before It Hits Home,” which is currently playing at California State University, Dominguez Hills through March 11.
As the audience follows the struggles of Wendal (Tevin Jackson), a prisoner of his own chaos, they will find this authentic, ruthless and raw play will plummet them towards their deepest emotions. It is understandable if you shed a few tears.
Taking place in Toledo, Ohio in the fall of 1991 and spring of 1992, the set captures the era with beepers and pay phones that are in service. But the core family values are as compelling today as they were 27 years ago. And, of course, a story about a jazz musician wouldn’t be complete without a touch of smooth jazz.
The play leaps from locale to locale, including the apartment of Wendal and his fiancé, Simone (Jessica Simington), the home of Wendal’s male lover Douglass (Devonta Price), Wendal’s family’s home, and to the hospital where Wendal learns his terrible fate.
The ensemble is uniformly excellent, each stretching the dynamics of their acting. Special mention should be made to the actors who play Wendal’s mother and father (Tiffany Yvette Cousin and Gregory Thompson), who are natural and believable, but also capable of expressing emotion through carefully chosen moments of silence.
The simultaneous reality that Leonard creates in the cozy Edison Theatre between Price, Jackson and Simington is one that must be experienced. It is urgent, powerful, and badass.
Audiences will be fully entertained as they uncover the life of Wendal from diagnosis to play’s end. But be warned. As the play progresses, the effects of AIDS on Wendal and his loved ones are catastrophic.
The dialogue is genuine, and while the play will have you on the edge of your seat it has its faults: such as a serious hospital visit of Wendal that generates a bad one-line joke from the doctor (Rebecca Cherkoss).
But that’s a minor complaint. West’s play, and Leonard’s production, is enthralling from beginning to end. It’s compelling, energetic and touches upon the real-life effects of a disease that is often symbolized as a larger-than-life pandemic.