Aug 8, 2014

edge on the Net:Joe Norton's 'The Truing'::Taking the AIDS Ride to The Fringe Festival

Of the almost 200 works featured in the 14th edition of The New York International Fringe Festival, playwright and long-time AIDS activist Joe Norton's new piece "The Truing" looks to be among the most intriguing.

It premieres Sunday, August 10 at 7 P.M. at the CSV Flamboyan Theater at 107 Suffolk Street.

Set on the second day of a three-day AIDS bike ride, "The Truing" looks at six characters facing crises at different times in their lives. Though set in the present, the 90-minute one-act is loosely based on Norton's experiences in the 1990s, when he worked on the staff of AIDS Rides nationwide. This work helped the author put his life in order, during a time in which he was slowly emerging from a personal funk brought on by his own HIV diagnosis a few years earlier.

"It's a light drama featuring three riders and three crew members, who, throughout the course of the play, all realize their real reasons for being there on the ride," says Norton, upfront that the second day of the ride represents the middle stages of the AIDS crisis, a medical journey that's seen significant progress, but still finds people coping with the effects of a chronic long-term disease.

Finding Meaning and Balance

"'The Truing' refers to two things-Truing a bicycle wheel to make the rim perfectly round and telling the truth about people who have been living with HIV so long. We tackle some serious issues, but it also features a drag queen chicken, a Port-o-Potty and a magical bicycle," adds Norton, also lead producer on the work, which is directed by Douglas Hall and stars Stephen Hope, Kathryn Gerhardt, Joel Mark Mijares, Andrew Dawson, Esther Chen and Billy Hipkins.

The piece is deeply personal to Norton, Director of Education & Outreach at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, where he runs the non-profit's schools outreach program, working with high school and college theater organizations and educating youth about HIV prevention and treatment.

He began work on the piece several years ago. Since then, he's revised it a number of times, refining the focus and reducing the number of characters onstage from 20 to six, tinkering with the piece until it worked. While The Truing has a serious message, the playwright, producer and former actor always kept his focus on creating an entertaining play.

"I want to more than anything keep it about the characters," he adds.

An Unanticipated Crisis

Norton's emphasis on character has made "The Truing" a treat for its six performers, including character actor Stephen Hope, who snagged one of the piece's juiciest roles. Despite the small budget, a no-frills stage and limited number of performances, the Broadway veteran is very excited about this fringe festival piece. He plays "Gil," a former rider and current crewmember coping with age and a health crisis. Like other The Truing's characters, he's reached a fork in the road.

"For Gil, due to the side effects of the medication, he has high blood pressure and high cholesterol and suffered a heart attack two years before the play began. It's removed the passions Gil had in his life," says Hope. "He loved the race both for the community and for fighting the AIDS war. Now he feels it's been taken away from him."

Hope explains, "Gil is at a crossroads...It's not so much (just) about his illness, his HIV infection. It's 'What do I do now?"

The fiftysomething character's challenges mirror people the actor sees in his own life. "There are so many people of my generation who never expected to live this long. They find themselves in the same situation as their parents and grandparents. The health issues that take over their lives are the same," he says.

"For Gil, this day is a life-changing experience," Hope says. "He has to choose whether to move forward or give up and sit where he is...Keep pushing toward the dream and the future or just sit down and grow moss."

One of almost 200 new works featured in 2014's New York Fringe Festival, "The Truing" plays for five performances at CSV Flamboyan, 107 Suffolk St. Dates are Sunday, August 10 at 7 P.M., Monday Aug. 11 at 5:30 P.M., Thursday, Aug. 14 at 7:30 P.M., Thursday Aug. 21 at 9:15 P.M., and Saturday, Aug. 23 at 5:00 P.M. For tickets and additional information, visit FringeNYC.org

www.thetruingplay.com