A year ago, when a promising young playwright-director named Lito Briano, 22, was told about a gay man who was gang-raped and mutilated at a Burning Man celebration in 2005, the revelation shattered his reasonably benign view of the world, altering many of his views on sexuality--and of rape. "I saw how rape not only affects the person who was assaulted," explains Briano, an SRJC student, "but how it also affects the victim's family, their circle of friends and even the friends of the friends. Rape makes a victim of everyone."
In today's world, one potential result of rape is infection with AIDS, and Briano's research into the number of Americans living with HIV and AIDS left him stunned. In response to all of this consciousness-expansion, Briano set out to write a play, loosely based on the Burning Man incident, that would trace the effect on multiple lives of a single sexual assault. The play, titled The Heart Bleeds Blue, has its premiere this weekend. A production of Briano's Jade Dragon Theater Company, the show has a cast of 17 actors, most of them from the school's theater department, and is sponsored by the JC's fencing club ("They liked the script," Briano says).
Ever since work began on the play in December, the project has generated a remarkable amount of buzz on and off campus, fueled in part by an effectively filmed YouTube vid featuring visceral and gripping images from the play interspersed with sobering AIDS statistics, and underscored by a haunting cover of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." In spite of the downbeat subject and the potentially off-putting details of the story, word around town is that--with its confident risk-taking and focused intensity--Blue crosses the in-your-face realism of a David Mamet play with the ripped-from-the-headlines topicality of The Laramie Project. Briano specifically praises the dedication and daring of his actors, who've been required to go to some very frightening places in bringing the script to life.
"I was surprised that the actors I'm working with plunged in so easily, especially once they found out what it's about," Briano says. "This material has compelled these people to go to deep, dark places in their psyches, and they have brought out some really intense, really incredible performances."
The Heart Bleeds Blue performs March 31-April 2 and April 7. April 1 and 7 at 2pm; April 2 at 7pm. Newman Auditorium, SRJC, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. $8-$10. 707.527.4418.