Poz Paradise is a new, Dutch play created by Daniel Cohen with support of the Dutch HIV Association. It tells the story of people living with hiv in modern times. The writer explained, that this play is a reaction towards well-known plays like Normal Heart and Angels in America. These plays focus on the crisis of the early Aids epidemic in the 1980’s. Poz Paradise shows the lives of long-term survivors of people with hiv. Questions the play explores are how they cope with a new lease of life and how do old and young gay men live together.
The story of Poz Paradise
Poz Paradise tells the story of three older gay men. They withdrew to a holiday island when they found out they were hiv positive. Together they made a pact: not dwell about the past, not fall in love again and not celebrating birthdays. They bought a house and named it Poz Paradise. Next to their house is a holiday resort, where three young gay men spent a week of hedonistic partying. But below this partying these young men have their own struggles with live and relations. These two worlds collide in this play, when the owner of the holiday resort wants to buy the house of the three older men. Also one of the older men, the one who is about to turn 50 years old, has a serious holiday flirt with one of the young holiday makers next door.
During this play the three men have to address the issue that, thanks to the new medication, they have to start living again: they have a future! But how do you start living again, when you have lived for years with the knowledge of imminent death hanging over your head? Is the world waiting for you and what is your place in the world when you have withdrawn yourself from it? Another theme is the difference between the generations of gay men: the young work hard and play hard, they have a different view on being gay and the place of gay men in life and history. These lead to some heated and sometimes comic confrontations during the play.
The setting of Poz Paradise is simple but effective. A big, raised, square platform in the middle of the stage centres the action as if you are in either the house of the hiv positive men or in the holiday resort next door. A background video screen is used to give different atmospheric settings to the scenes. This is not done with real pictures, but more with abstract visuals mostly in Mediterranean hues of blue.
A special role in the play is for the only female actress. She has several minor roles, but her biggest contribution is as singing connection between scenes. On her own she acts like a greek chorus to set the atmosphere with the right song at the right time. Since she has a great voice and great comic timing, she is a great addition to the play.
The play was very enjoyable to watch. Like every good, wry comedy it has enough tragic and heart-felt moment, to bring its message home to the audience. The themes of the play come really well across. The struggle of the older men, who suddenly have to figure out the rest of their lives, is palpable. And also the confrontation between the worlds of older and younger gay men is raw and real. These are conflicts you don’t see often on stage or in movies, while they are real dilemmas within the gay community.
The down side of the play is, that it tries to tell too many things in a short span of time. The back story two of the hiv positive men and of two of the three young men are being told. That is almost too much and makes you loose focus during the play. The one remaining character of each of the trio’s have enough play time, but their supporting roles do not really contribute much to the flow of the play. It is more difficult that way to get invested in the characters. We had the feeling that they should have trimmed down the play a bit more, so that it gets more focus. It could have done that either by putting more focus on the older and the younger men who have a flirt or by exclusively focussing on the three older gay men.
This aside, we enjoyed ourselves and recommend the play wholeheartedly. In it is own way the play is a new expression of gay life and life with hiv. Stories which also need to be told.
Poz Paradise, as seen in the Stadssschouwburg Amsterdam
Still performed until August the 5th 2018
♦♦♦◊◊ (Three out of five diamonds)