Cultural Arts: Stages
Secret Agents, by acclaimed playwright Jessica Litwak, probes the relationship, spanning some thirty years, between two siblings, David and Mirium. Secret Agents takes the audience on a fast ride along the arc of this turbulent and poignant relationship. As children, the siblings enter an engaging world of fantasy revolving around a high-spirited game of spies, where they meet none other than James Bond himself.
Written by Jessica Litwak
Directed by Sue Hamilton
Produced by Los Angeles LGBT Center/Jon Imparato, Richard B. Warsk, and Carole Black
Presented at the Center’s Renberg Theatre on May 04, 2001
JAMES BOND/DOCTORS/BOB……….George Hertzberg
Directed by Sue Hamilton; setting by Evan A. Bartoletti; lighting by Chris Wojcieszyn; sound design by Chad Harris and Amy Rosenberg; production stage manager Patricia Sutherland; choreography by Vera Wagman; technical director Sandy Lee; special effects by Christy Sumner, wardrobe master Michael Mosher; property master Joel McKean; assistant stage manager Shannon Morrison; assistant designer Joe Seeley; and crew Christopher DeWan, Greg Holleman, and Jennifer Lake.
In Jessica Litwak’s play, a brother and sister, Mirium (Litwak) and David (Queer As Folk’s Peter Paige) spend their childhood playing ‘secret agent,’ with James Bond as their hero, revered for his style, courage, humor, and unflappability. Eventually they outgrow their fantasies, but Bond (played here by a dashing George Hertzberg) remains as a phantom ideal, and the essence of cool.
As they grow up, the bond of affection and intimacy they share begins to fray. Mirium becomes a mother, obsessed with her children, and David tries his luck as an actor in Hollywood. He has just begun to taste success when he learns that he is HIV+, a fact he feels he must hide, even from Mirium, lest it destroy his chances for employment.
Litwak’s play is non-linear, using an impressionistic structure to play off the past against the present, blending fact and fantasy, comedy and stark reality. The relationship between sister and brother is explored in depth, with all its complexity, love, and turbulence, and David is portrayed with deep affection. The play has the ring of autobiography, but if it is drawn from life, Litwak has painted a merciless self-portrait: Mirium is so over-emotional and self-centered that her brother dares not tell her his most painful truth. The scene in which he finally reveals to her his impending death is harrowing because instead of bringing them closer, it drives them apart. Her own pain is so intense that she can’t perceive his, or grasp the fact that for him, dealing with his own death is so all engrossing that he can no longer care about the problems of the living. So his demise leaves her battling with guilt, grief, insomnia and a host of tender and terrible memories.
Though the story sounds grim, in Litwak’s hands it’s also joyous, loving, and funny. Her humor runs rich and deep, and her wit prevents pathos from sinking into bathos. She reveals David’s charm, intelligence and promise as well as tragedy. Director Sue Hamilton finds a perfect balance, expertly blending the play’s diverse elements, and Paige provides a really lovely performance. He segues effortlessly between past and present, creating a rich and multi-layered portrait. Litwak makes Mirium a headstrong but touching figure, and Hertzberg stylishly depicts a sort of uber-Bond, an icon who stands in for David’s ideal, his lover, and finally, death itself. AIDS is, after all, a kind of secret agent, infiltrating by stealth.