By Yuko Kurahashi
San Diego Repertory Theatre is presenting Karen Hartman’s Roz and Ray, directed by Delcia Turner Sonnenberg, featuring Carla Harting and Steven Lone, at the Lyceum Stage. Set in Hartman’s hometown, San Diego, Roz and Ray portrays two people who are personally and professionally involved in the controversial treatment of hemophilia. The play spans 15 years, from 1976 through 1987 and a single day in 1991.
The beginning scene takes place at Children’s Hospital in San Diego in 1976, when Roz Kagan, a brilliant and caring doctor, explains to Ray, a father of twin sons with hemophilia, about a cutting-edge blood transfusion treatment using freeze-dried powdered concentrates containing Factor 8 and 9. Roz is excited about this new treatment because the concentrates can be stored and administered at home, eliminating countless trips to the hospital to receive conventional full-blood transfusion treatment. In the 1980s however, it was found that Factor 8 and 9 concentrates contained tainted blood from donors with AIDS, leaving more than half of the hemophiliac population in the United States infected with HIV.
Hartman gives snapshots of defining moments in the lives of Ray, his children, and Roz over the period of 15 years. By going back and forth between the past (the 1970s and 1980s) and the present (1991), the play illuminates their growing trust and friendship which evolves into love, which is then replaced by anger, despair, and mistrust. Although the play is filled with devastating and frightening revelations and recognitions, Hartman leaves a space for Roz and Ray to begin a new chapter with understanding and healing.
Sonnenberg’s direction sheds light on the two characters’ relationship and emotion in each period. For example, the trust and respect that Ray shows in the 1975 scene is suddenly changed into anger in the following scene of 1991 in which Ray is marching in front of the hospital and shouting “Dr. Roz Kagan killed my son.”
Sonnenberg highlights Roz and Ray’s relationship that goes beyond a patient-doctor relationship, illuminating the humanity of the characters. Carla Harting’s Dr. Roz Kagan is believable, compassionate, and engaging. She demonstrates a wide range of emotions and thoughts that encompass empathy, sympathy, bewilderment, self-doubt, and self-renouncement. While she is maintaining professionalism as part of her “survival” as a doctor, Harting’s Roz also shows her need to understand and be understood as a human. Steven Lone, as Ray, also demonstrates a wide range of emotions as a single father of two children with hemophilia, and a bisexual man, who falls in love with his children’s doctor, and an angry parent who has lost his son to AIDS. The two actors’ heartfelt performances bring a rich and wide scope of perspectives and sensibilities to the story and by the end of the performance, the audience feels empathy for both characters.
The Lyceum Theatre is arranged, for this performance, with the audience facing the stage from two sides. Scene designer John Iacovelli has created, using grayish tiles on the walls and floors, Roz’s office at the Children’s Hospital. The hospital’s cold and clinical atmosphere is magnified with Roz’s white glass-top desk and chair. Glass pieces with red paint–which suggest blood cells–were hung from the ceiling, reminding the audience of the characters’ relationship to “hemophilia,” which is also an important “character” in the play. The outer edges (two sides) of the performance area serve as streets and ER entrance. Lighting designer Sherrice Mojgani uses a multitude of intensities and colors to light different sections of the performance area, allowing the space to serve as multiple locations and express the emotions of the characters. Costume Designer Shelly Williams captures the trend of the decade. For example, Ray wears a black leather jacket, pants, and cap in the 1980s, reminding the audience of a character from the Village People.
The lobby of the Lyceum Theatre exhibits photographs showing the solidarity and activism which arose in response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The exhibit provides a historical perspective for Roz and Ray.
Karen Hartman based the character of Roz on her late father, a hematologist at Children’s Hospital in San Diego from the 1970s through the early 1990s. He, like Roz, supported the new, “miracle” treatment. Hartman’s efforts to present the pains of her father and his patients in a meaningful story resulted in a moving, educational, and community-centered piece.
Roz and Ray premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre, and produced by Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago in 2016. The play is scheduled to be produced at Theatre J in Washington DC, April 3-April 29, 2018.
Roz & Ray by Karen Hartman, directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg
September 7 – October 1, 2017
Lyceum Space, San Diego Repertory Theatre