The AIDS Show Broke the Silence

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SAN FRANCISCO, APRIL, 1983. In one of the earliest spoken-word performances that theatrically represented AIDS in the United States, perhaps the first on the West Coast, an emerging playwright and stand-up comedian named Doug Holsclaw performed Eartha at the White House (later retitled Spice Queen) in a monologue competition sponsored by the One Act Theater Company at a county fair. Holsclaw wrote the piece after reading Larry Kramer’s impassioned call to action “1,112 and Counting,” which had been published in The New York Native on March 12. In an impeccably timed, angry, campy yet earnest soliloquy, Holsclaw’s saucy character narrated a story about his friend Jeffrey, a hustler who had died at a young age during the first year of the crisis. Describing their catty yet tender friendship, Holsclaw’s character joked about how Jeffrey, who “could be Cruella Deville sometimes,” would call him “paprika queen” or “Donna Reed like I’m bourgeois—because I garnish my salads” when they would picnic at Land’s End on Memorial Day. Pausing artfully for both comedic and dramatic effect, Holsclaw—originally from Nebraska and having recently settled in the Bay Area after five years in New York—charmed the audience with his seductive Midwestern cadence, twinkling blue eyes, flip confidence, boyishly campy swagger, and startling sincerity, leading the spectators through a series of catapulting emotions with his original eight-minute piece.

The monologue became both more irreverently sarcastic and rhapsodically poignant as it unfolded.

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