PLAY: Colbert Alembert, Debi Tinsley, Mark Sande, Kiff Scholl and Greg Ivan Smith all together for David’s 50th birthday party

It’s been nearly 35 years since the beloved film star Rock Hudson died of a heretofore unknown disease called AIDS. At the time, Ronald Reagan, who had been a movie star himself (although not a beloved one) was president.  He reacted to news of the malady that was soon to take the lives of a generation of men with indifference and denial.  If he had access to the damning terminology of our current president, he might have dismissed this tragedy as “just a Chinese hoax.”

In the wake of the ongoing plague, however, a galaxy of playwrights and screenwriters took on the burden of telling the world the stories of the dying victims.  But to his everlasting shame, Reagan did nothing to help them.  And neither did his wife, the manipulative Nancy.

Long recognized as a co-conspirator in her husband’s activities, Nancy became the target of a number of writers who considered her responsible for abetting Reagan’s non-response to this fatal disease.

The latest playwright to confront this subject is author and history professor Daniel Hurewitz, whose play “Nancy F***ing Reagan” is currently having its world premiere at The Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood.

The premise of the play is the 50th birthday in Palm Springs of a man named David (played by Kiff Scholl) whose party is being disrupted by the funeral of Nancy Reagan.  A cortege of visitors arriving in Palm Springs to attend Nancy’s public ceremony has tied up traffic into the city, much to the annoyance of David’s friends.  Arriving late and bedraggled, they express their contempt for Nancy and her decision to make a final visit to the place where she and “Ronnie” had a vacation home.

David, meanwhile, is watching the fading light of “the sun setting on my 40s” with his friend Maggie (Debi Tinsley) in the house she shares with her husband Richard.  David, like the playwright, Hurewitz, is a gay history professor.  Of Nancy, he says, “That woman took our youth,” and adds mournfully, “I’ve spent so much of my life alone.”

Finally, a motley mix of friends arrive for the birthday party.

They include Jason (Greg Ivan Smith) and his current lover, Kenny (Colbert Alembert) a young, light-skinned African- American.  (David’s friend Maggie is also a light-skinned African-American).  And then there is Richard (Mark Sande), who keeps his cool and acts as a steadying influence on the others.  (“Fifty is the new thirty,” he reassures David.)

Richard is currently writing a movie about zombies, while Maggie, considered an expert on the Holocaust, is a dean at a local college.  With the others they participate in a conversation that veers from racism to gayness to “Angels in America” to the Reagans “who watched us die.”

In the midst of this, a student named Allison (Safiya Quinley) barges in to speak to the dean.  She is so upset as she tells her story that her frenzied discourse sounds like she’s speaking Chinese, or some other unintelligible language. She is a beautiful African-American and a determined activist, and has come to report that she was assaulted by her professor.

But gradually she gets involved in the ongoing discussion about racism.  “Trying to ‘pass’ is a racist act,” she says.

Also going on from time to time is an oleaginous television report from a newscaster named Erica (Amy Kersten) who delivers smarmy impressions of Nancy Reagan’s funeral.

And finally, fueled by endless amounts of liquor, David denounces Nancy for having AIDS victims’ “blood on her hands” and decides to go to her funeral and pour blood on her coffin.  And Kenny agrees to go with him.

“Nancy F***ing Reagan” is well directed by Larry Margo, and the ensemble delivers cogent arguments with sincerity, as well as participating in some irrelevant, and often silly, activities.  But all in all, it’s a well-spent two hours.

The play runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through August 4. The Secret Rose Theatre is located at 11246 W. Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. To reserve tickets, visit nfrnfr.eventbrite.com, and for discount tickets use the promo code “NFRNFR” when purchasing from Eventbrite.

Cynthia Citron has lived and worked on every continent except Antarctica as a journalist, award-winning magazine editor, public relations director, and screenwriter.  She can be reached at ccitron66@gmail.com

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