Athenaeum Theatre Basement, Dunedin

13/08/2014 - 16/08/2014

Production Details

Counterpoint is proud to present Beirut by Alan Bowne, a dystopian love story that investigates the depth of human emotion, conscience and desire.

Beirut is a classic love story told through the darkest of lenses. Set in dystopian New York City in which the AIDS virus has become epidemic, the city has been split into two sections; the negative and the positive. Though the HIV positive are quarantined they live in comparative freedom compared to the negative. Two young lovers, a positive and a negative, fight in this dark reality for what they want, what they need and what they think is right.

Alan Bowne’s amazing text extrapolates and highlights the fear and anxiety caused by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, while also creating a gut-wrenchingly evocative love story about two lovers who want nothing more than to be with each other.

This two hander is brought to life by one of Dunedin’s best young talents Aaron Mayes and co-starred with New York born and bred and American Academy of the Dramatic Arts trained Lindsay Astarita. 

Taking place in the Athenaeum Theatre Basement, prepare to be transported into a theatrical space and world rarely seen in Dunedin and experience a play more gritty, gripping and evocative than you’ve ever seen before. 

Athenaeum Theatre Basement, Dunedin  
13th, 14th, 15th and 16th of August 2014, at 7.30pm
Tickets $15 Waged, $10 Unwaged
Tickets available at the door or through

Cast: Aaron Mayes and Lindsay Astarita

The power of human emotion captivates

Review by Alison Embleton 14th Aug 2014

The paint-stripped, dilapidated staircase down to the basement of the Athenaeum Theatre creates a strong sense of foreboding well suited to such a dark and wretched play. Once inside, the set of a dingy, one-room apartment is filled with discarded rubbish, crumbling walls and a bare mattress. Welcome to ‘Beirut’, a neighbourhood of New York where sufferers of an unnamed, highly infectious virus (Positives) are quarantined to protect the uninfected (Negatives) living elsewhere in the city.

Tangled up in a single sheet on top of the mattress is Torch, Beirut’s male lead (Aaron Mayes). In a chilling silence, broken only by Torch’s grunts and the occasional police siren, we watch his daily routine of sleeping, eating, and waiting for the daily inspections of his body by a hostile and manipulative guard. Upon hearing a commotion outside, Torch rushes frantically to the door. His ex-lover, Blue (Lindsay Astarita), has abandoned her life in the ‘Negative’ world to see him.

Blue brings news of the outside world and the harsh new restrictions placed upon society. She also brings new anxiety into Torch’s life. According to the new laws, they are not supposed to touch (let alone anything else) yet their sexual chemistry is apparent from the moment they set eyes on each other.

What unfolds as the play progresses is the heart-breaking situation the two lovers are trapped in. To be together is to choose sickness and death, but to be apart is to choose a life without love or happiness.

The ‘will they, won’t they?’ format frames much of the script, with each character teetering constantly on the edge of highly emotional decisions. As an audience, you are taken on a complex journey with the characters – wanting them to be together, but also constantly aware of how horrifying the ramifications would be for them.

While the repetitive nature of the back-and-forth argument and counter-argument does wear a little thin at times (the play runs at approx. 90 minutes) the actors deliver with such passion and genuine emotion that you cannot help but be compelled by them. It is also to their credit that this acting duo manage to deliver a delightfully natural humour from their predicament at multiple points throughout the performance. I will note that Mayes’ wavering accent is distracting at times; this is unfortunately highlighted by Astarita’s flawless one (she has the unfair advantage of being a New York native). 

This play was written in a time when HIV/AIDS transmission (the unnamed virus with which Torch is infected) was not well understood. The fear and panic instilled in society at the time is palpable in the performances of Astarita and Mayes, both dismissive and vehemently fearful of the potential risks associated with their contact. Beirut captures the kind of blind panic associated with limited information about infectious disease and forces its audience into a contemplative and empathetic role. You find yourself desperately wanting the lusty couple to give in to their desires then being shockingly jolted back to the reality of their catastrophic situation.

The Athenaeum basement is the perfect location for a play such as this. The decaying, underground space creates the ideal dystopian backdrop for events to unfold. With the direction of Baz Macdonald, the actors have crafted a nuanced piece from a script which could easily have been played in an over-wrought and hysterical manner. Beirut will leave you captivated by the power of human emotion: can we prevent ourselves from destroying what we love? 

A note: I highly recommend wrapping up extra warm for this show, despite valiant efforts with an outdoor heater, the basement is bitterly cold. 


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