For César Cadabes, the personal is political and the political is personal in his solo theatre piece Not My First Pandemic which had its New York City debut on Wednesday night at the United Solo Theatre Festival. The show traces his journey from his youthful coming out in Hawaii through the AIDS crisis which births his passion for civic activism to the current COVID Crisis. Cadabes tells his story with ruthless honesty, great heart, and wit.
The play is both personal memoir and social history. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the first cases of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This grim milestone reminds us that while treatment and life expectancy have vastly improved there is still neither vaccine nor cure. Cadabes shares his own experience of discovering he was HIV positive, which spurred him to become an advocate and AIDs educator. It is an important story to remind those of a younger generation of the absolute terror and uncertainty of the people who were among the first wave to be diagnosed. Each one someone’s friend, someone’s lover, someone’s son. Most now gone.
Cadabes is a charming performer gently winning his audience over through humor and insight. He is at home in his own skin and on the stage. HIs activism encompasses a wide range of issues from Pacific Islanders dealing with HIV/AIDS to communities of color affected by police brutality, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare and education. His moments of anger at the injustices he’s seen burn bright fueling our empathy.
People who have faced death also know deep joy he reminds us. This is most evident as he speaks of his Filipino American parents, a former dancehall girl and a sailor, who enjoyed a long and happy marriage. They raised eight children and died well into their eighties within a few weeks of each other. Their unconditional acceptance when César, after many years, reveals that not only is he gay and about to be married to his partner, but that he is HIV Positive was one of the evening’s most moving notes.
The show is adeptly directed by Kat Evasco, in a framework that allows maximum freedom for Cadabes to shine. There were a few rough spots in the performance, and the material could be trimmed a bit to allow maximum emphasis on the most affecting parts of his story. Overall though, it is a piece that should be seen. In telling his deeply personal stories he strikes a universal chord. Illustrating how we are all bound together and that what affects one community ultimately affects us all. He shows us that thriving not merely surviving is possible even in a world of grief. “Not My First Pandemic”
Starring César Cadabes
Directed by Kat Evasco
November 10, 2021 at 9:30 PM
United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row 410 W 42nd Street, New York City
Originally from Mississippi, Frances Tera, came to New York to be a writer like her literary heroines - Harper Lee and Eudora Welty. Along the way, she fell in love with the magic of live theatre. She now combines her two passions as a theatre reviewer. When not going to the theatre or writing about theatre she lives in Brooklyn with her cat Bobbydobs.