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Theater Review: “Roz & Ray”

Steven Lone as "Ray" and Carla Harting as "Roz."
Photo credit:
San Diego Repertory Theatre

In the late 1970s, a medical discovery made it possible for hemophiliacs to lead relatively normal lives. (Up until then, frequent bleeds and consequent hospital visits for transfusions meant short, difficult lives.)

This miracle was called Factor VIII, a concentrate derived from the blood of as many as 20,000 donors. Factor VIII allowed patients – even children – to self-medicate by injection.

What was unknown at the time was that some of the donated blood used to make Factor VIII was tainted with what would later become known as HIV.

By the time a test for HIV was developed in the mid-1980s, 90% of hemophiliacs in the U.S. had already been infected, and some 10,000 would die.

Playwright Karen Hartman, a San Diego native whose father was a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Children’s Hospital at that time, dramatizes what became a medical crisis in “Roz & Ray,” which plays through Oct. 1 at San Diego Repertory’s Space Theatre. 

Roz Kagan is a doctor who is treating the young twin sons of Ray (Steven Lone) for hemophilia. She tells him about Factor VIII and he agrees to let them take it.

It’s a miracle – for a while. But in the next scene (which takes place in 1991), we see Ray picketing the hospital with a sign that reads “Dr. Kagan killed my son.”

Somewhere in between, Hartman posits a budding (if not entirely convincing) romance between the divorced father and the doctor It’s problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is that first time shift showing Ray with that pesky picket sign.

Still, Sonnenberg and her cast – Carla Hunting and Steven Lone, two of the finest actors around – make this sad story of medical crisis and governmental inaction (remember that President Reagan first uttered the word “AIDS” in 1985, the year Rock Hudson died) into riveting theater.

There’s not a lot of tech to talk about here. Set designer John Iacovelli uses a nearly bare stage except for a few chairs and tables and an overhead mobile of blood-stained plastic. Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design do their job.

“Roz & Ray” is a fine piece of sad history, well told.

The details

“Roz & Ray” plays through October 1, 2017 at San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or www.sdrep.org