By Jesse Garcia
While the events in Cheryl West’s 1992 play, “Before It Hits Home,” took place nearly 30 years ago, its director believes its concerns resonate profoundly in 2018.
The play, which runs at the CSUDH Edison Theatre from Feb. 23-March 10, won the Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play in 1992. It is set in the American Midwest in 1991 and relates the story of a young, black, bisexual jazz musician and the daunting effect that AIDS had on himself, his love life, and his family.
While 1991 seems like a long time ago, the grim reality is that HIV affects the black community, and other people of color, disproportionally compared to their overall demographic numbers, is just one reason why director Donis Leonard thinks West’s play is so urgent for CSUDH audiences.
“Never have I staged a play more meaningful to me than this one,” Leonard said. “The research informs us that new cases of HIV are rising fastest among people of color.”
The play centers around the life of Wendal Bailey (played by Tevin Jackson), a struggling jazz musician who is diagnosed with AIDS. Bailey, although denying any homosexual tendencies, is seen sharing an intimate moment with a male companion at the end of act one. The denial Bailey is in slowly becomes more apparent as the play progresses.
As a professor of theatre arts, and past nominee of numerous NAACP Theatre Awards for excellence in African-American Theatre, Leonard hopes West’s exploration of the seriousness of AIDS resonates to his audiences. However, both Leonard and Jessica Simington, who plays Simone, Wendal’s finance in the play, said the play is about far more than disease and destruction. It also exemplifies the beauty of love.
“What I love most about performing in plays is experiencing the first couple of rehearsals as strangers and watching the relationships form into a family towards the end,” said Simington.
The message she hopes is conveyed to the audience is one of communication and self-worth, Simington said.
“Simone knows what she wants and will not settle for less than, and that’s the message I want to deliver is for people to know their self-worth,” said Simington.
“As we celebrate the beauty of black history, it is my hope that our audiences will be engaged by this raw and candid look into the Bailey family,” said Leonard. “Although the backdrop is AIDS, ultimately this play is a beautiful story about conditional and unconditional love.”