“We Rise” captures important moment in history

By Judi Christy

Admittedly, I am an AIDS dropout. The first I heard of the epidemic was in 1984, when I was newly married and none too familiar with the happenings of neophytes out of my social circle of heterosexual couples and the smattering of gay friends from my time in college and in theatre. I felt bad, sure. But, it didn’t hit home to me – until years later when, after having a son, I saw the movie, “Philadelphia.” Although Zach was just was just six at the time, I was so touched by Joanne Woodward and the love that she had for her ailing son, played by Tom Hanks, in the film. I sobbed through the whole blessed movie, drenching a damn good turtleneck. And, then the film ended and my mother, who absolutely hated the flick, said “Why are you crying? They got what they deserved.”

This, as it turns out, would be the catalyst for one of the largest arguments we had.

Deserve? Are you kidding me? Why? Because they love who they love?

Today, my mother is dead and therefore I am spared at seeing her roll her eyes at the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow gays to marry. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that if she did in fact have a grave, she’d be doing her fair share of tossing and turning in it. Sorry Mom. I will always love you – and I will cherish the ashes I see every day in your urn in my home.

But, would I be able to part with them?

Out of love? Or even out of anger?

This, in part, is the root of the play, “We Rise,” written by the very talented and very dear Todd Walburn, co-owner of 2nd April Galleries in the Canton Arts District. In it, he tells the story of those involved in a 1992 protest by the AIDS activist group, ACT UP. Families and friends of people who had died of the virus, led a very peaceful but very heartfelt demonstration by tossing the ashes of their dearly departed over the iron gates of the White House, then occupied by George Bush, Sr.

Did this make news? I suppose. I was 32, the mother of yet another child and someone who had not yet discovered NPR or the intrusion of what would one day be social media. In short, I heard nothing about this incident until I answered a crowd sourcing plea from Todd, who wanted to explore this topic and write this play.

Thank you, Todd.

The play, “We Rise,” is certainly not entertaining. It’s not funny. It’s not short. It’s not likely to sneak up on Broadway. But, it is timely. Like so many things – patriotism, civic pride, education, and compassion – the AIDS issue is no longer an epidemic. It’s, well, not as interesting as Donald Trump or Caitlin Jenner; not as news worthy as kids killing kids on campus and that whatchamacallit war in God knows where.

But it’s here. And, it’s there, in the memories of those who have loved and lost.

So, I encourage you to see, “We Rise.” Do it for Todd. Do it for my mom.

And, just maybe, you will remember, how easy it is to fall.

“We Rise,” will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 23, and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Kathleen Howland Theatre at 324 Cleveland Ave. NW.

 

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Judi Christy is the Marketing Director of Fieldcrest Estate and a blogger for ArtsinStark