"Poz" is the kind of comedy that shines.
The brilliance of this world premiere by Island City Stage is in the script, which alternates its humor between a warm glow and sharp, laserlike bursts. And then, there's the near-perfect cast, fairly beaming with joy at getting a crack at such carefully carved characters. It all adds up to something simultaneously dark and light that, for the audience, feels so good to bask in.
Staged at Fort Lauderdale's Empire Stage, the show is set in New York circa 2003 (flip phones!). The story - and here you need to try to remember this is a hilarious and dishy comedy - is centered on Edison (Pierre Tannous), a gay, struggling actor who has recently discovered he has leukemia. Unfortunately, he has no health insurance.
Neighbor and former stage star Catherine (Jessica Peterson) more than empathizes, remembering another young talent with promise she loved, Arthur (Christian Vandepas), who died from AIDS but still hovers around as a ghost. Catherine consults with Maia (Janet Weakley), a lesbian medium who was once married to Oscar (Jeffrey Bruce), a gay medical-case worker who ends up planting the idea in Edison's head that his chemo would be covered if he were HIV-positive. Enter his BFF Robert (Larry Buzzeo), a Log Cabin Republican and self-proclaimed "sex pig" who has HIV.
Got it? That's the setup, and it's ready to shoot off in any number of directions. But playwright Michael Aman finds the most unlikely path, constantly surprising with the off-ramps he chooses, each of them shockingly funny and breathtakingly beautiful. It's as if he looks at the chessboard he has populated with different eyeglasses, seeing moves and points of focus in the varying lenses that the rest of us might not even glance at.
Director Michael Leeds hits us with his whole arsenal, shaping the pacing and laughs into something that comes off equal parts flighty fantasy and hardcore reality. He even writes a song, a rib-tickler from a long-ago musical in which Catherine played a dirge-singing Mary Todd Lincoln. In fact, the only misstep is with Arthur, who is sometimes way too close to the living on Michael McClain's airy cloud-strewn and bright-blue set. But that's a trifle that can be easily fixed with blocking.
This is the first full staging of "Poz," but no doubt you will see it again. The piece is irresistibly theatrical and inevitably cinematic.
"Poz" is running through Nov. 23 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $30. Call 954-519-2533 or go to IslandCityStage.org.