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Belafonte still sings of social justice

Tough topic, pungent play!

If you're like me, you'll need extra convincing to get you to attend a live stage play about a guy dying of AIDS.

Last Friday, the Red House dragged me - whining and worrying - to the opening night of "Odysseus DOA," a new play by Stephen Svoboda set in an Ithaca hospital ward.

All my whining and worrying was for naught.

Svoboda's ambitious script deftly blends his lead character's obsession with Greek tragedy with snappy streetwise dialogue delivered by dying patients, frustrated medical staffers and a couple of mothers - one solicitous and one bitter.

The one-act play, which clocks in at just less than two hours, moves swiftly as a stiff Mediterranean breeze buoyed by a bounty of humor to offset inevitable sad endings.

Like all great plays, however, what makes "Odysseus" work is Svoboda's ability to create characters for which the audience actually cares and cares deeply.

Elliot, the new patient whose ability to talk is hampered by brain lesions, is played by John Bixler who skillfully segues from monosyllabic outbursts to eloquent fantasy speeches. His mother, Mrs. Hayes, is portrayed by Laura Austin, whose bravura performance encompasses emotions from giddiness to rage to tears.

Mrs. Hayes' counterpart is Mrs. Collins (Binaifer Dabu), the angry mother of Adam (Adam Perabo) whose promiscuous lifestyle led to his affliction, though his imminent death fails to quell his capacity for love. Even the perfunctory doctor and nurse (Darian Sundberg and Kate Metroka) display human qualities with which we can all identify.

Most entertaining, however, are Elliot's fellow patients. Maha McCain plays the spirited Maha, whose final wish is a meal at McDonald's. Muscular Brett Davenport embodies the macho Nick, who blindly denies that he's even infected. Best yet is Temar Underwood as Resean. His bosomy transvestite is quick with a ribald riposte at every turn, but also connects deeply with Elliot as she becomes Athena to his Odysseus.

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