Playwright Oliver Mayer’s Members Only takes place in the milieu of professional boxing in New York City in 1982, and intersects with the insidious rise of a mysterious disease that came to be known as AIDS that went on to decimate, first the gay population, then, indiscriminately, millions world wide. The story features a champion boxer in the twilight of his career, Pedro Quinn (Ray Oriel), who is haunted with guilt by the memory of an opponent who died in the ring. He is given the chance for one more significant bout that he accepts with reluctance. His long time trainer, Jack (Hansford Prince) urges him on. Although the prefight checkup by his doctor (Darrin Dewitt Henson) seems cursory, he is given the nod to fight.
In the boxing gym where Pedro trains, he mentors a young woman, Lone (Gabriela Ortega), who is desperate to become a boxer. She is hectored by another trainer, a nasty guy named Alacran (Geoffrey Rivas). When Lone is given the key to the shower room by Pedro, she meets the attendant, Kid (Ronnie Alvarez), and strikes up a shaky friendship with him.
A subplot evolves concerning an ex-boxer, Vinal (Jon Huertas), who bears animus against Pedro. Vinal, now a rich, successful mortician, teams up with a Latina chanteuse named Sarita (powerful vocalist Marlene Forte). Together they collude in making a documentary film based on Pedro and the death of his opponent. Through all of this there are subtle and not so subtle whiffs of homosexuality at the crossroads of desire and disease.
Director José Luis Valenzuela has made some interesting choices in the staging of this drama. At lights up, the cast, in choral fashion, shout out words that are difficult to understand, perhaps because of the acoustics of the steep-rising concrete room. (There were similar acoustical problems with production I attended earlier in the year.) Between scenes, the players enter and exit in a deliberate, slow-paced, choreographed march, bending deeply at the knees as they go. It is interesting, but saps the momentum of the action.
The open scenic design by François-Pierre Couture, with lighting by Pablo Santiago, provides multiple entrance and exit avenues that serve the action well. Costume design by Carlos Brown supports character, period and action. Extensive use of video projections (Yee Eun Nam, designer) on a screen above the stage gives another view of the action on the floor, or replays the earlier deadly bout. Sound design is by John Zalewski and Julia Zayas-Melendez manages the stage.
As an ensemble, the cast is excellent, giving big, passionate performances. They were rewarded by enthusiastic applause at curtain call.
Members Only, produced by the Latino Theater Company, closes on Sunday, November 18 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.