Under the white sheets of a hospital bed, junior Jacob Zachary Flanders is unrecognizable. A taut cap covers his hair, and dark lesions are strewed across his face and neck. His arms tremble at the smallest attempt of movement.
Flanders is playing Peter, the protagonist in this year’s Emerson play, Bourne Into The Clouds, written and directed by seniors Sam Pollak and Oceanne Fry. The play takes place in 1984, and centers around a young gay man dying of AIDS. The grave topics of this play are juxtaposed with a charming Peter Pan theme.
A talking crocodile, played by sophomore Alyssa Parkhurst, tied together a clear theme between Peter Pan and the troubling concept of death. In Peter’s hallucinations, the crocodile would sometimes walk into his hospital room holding a ticking clock, a reminder that Peter’s time was running out.
The rest of the characters, however, have a lose connection to the characters they represent in Peter Pan, recognized only by similar names and color themes. In Bourne Into The Clouds, Peter’s connection to the protagonist in Peter Pan possibly lies on a figurative level. A once racy and energetic man dying at 24, he truly is a young boy who will never grow up.
The set was minimalist. A propped-up hospital bed was at the center of the room. Surrounding it were two seats on either side of the stage and a bedside table heavy with pill bottles, flower vases, and uneaten breakfast.
Plentiful praise should be given to the entire supporting cast, particularly sophomore Eva Stanley, who played Neville. Representing Peter’s guardian angel, her interpretation of the character was endearing yet sophisticated. In addition to watching over Peter in every scene, she also opened and closed the play with two powerfully delivered monologues.
The play never left Peter’s hospital room, and the plot line moved as various friends and family came to visit. Peter, a man clearly tormented by justified bitterness and the effects of primitive HIV medications, treats each of his guests with difficulty. The only person he genuinely welcomes are his nurse, Belle (senior Carolyn Fahrner) and his childhood best friend Winnie (sophomore Summer Barnes). As for his mother and friends, he sees them first and foremost as the people who abandoned him and his community during a tragic time.
The play contained many poignant moments, and at times very severe statements were made. Peter’s character places heavy blame on the Reagan administration and the FDA for ignoring the AIDS epidemic and allowing gay men to die. In one of his most extreme statements, Flanders’ character claims, “this isn’t an epidemic, it’s a genocide!”
The plot structure is slightly muddled by having two very climactic points. The first, happening in the middle of the play, is when Peter asks his nurse and his friends to lift him so he may see the ground from above. As the four raise him by his arms and legs, he mimics the sensation of being able to fly. For a moment he is liberated from his pain, but quickly the moment ends in a fit of violent coughing, and he is set down.
The second climactic point was the finale. Alone with his guardian angel, the slightly deranged Peter kneels in his bed, describing his visions of water flooding the room. He asks his guardian angel if she’s come to save him. “Yes, Peter,” she responded sweetly. “And the time has come to be saved.” At this point, Peter stands up for the first time. He looks up and faces death with courage.
Through a complex portrayal of living with AIDS during the 80s, this sensitive and conspicuous story will hopefully spark more conversations and education on a historical tragedy that is too often forgotten.