Two years ago I reviewed a production of Edward D. Padilla's "Fallen Guardian Angels" at Las Vegas Theatre Studio and said, "For all its faults, 'Fallen Guardian Angels' is the sort of thing that should be produced in high-school auditoriums for its historical perspective of a worldwide disaster and its pleas for kindness. Unfortunately, it's also the sort of play a high school wouldn't touch."
I was way off in that second sentence.
The author's script - about six young actors dealing with the early days of the AIDS crisis - has found high-school audiences throughout the country (including Las Vegas). That surprises me, since even though I found the play to be educational, nonpolitical, and matter-of-fact (just the sort of stuff children should be exposed to, if their parents want them to survive), I never imagined that the story would get the approval of school systems.
Neither did Padilla.
"A friend of mine said, 'Let's try. Why not,' " the 48-year-old Albuquerque native and 12-year Vegas resident says. "We started out slow with the East Coast. I looked up contact numbers for high schools, sent out about 100 emails and got about nine responses."
Padilla then sent out more than 1,000 correspondences east of the Mississippi and this time more than half the addressees contacted him. He's been on a roll ever since, with students spreading the word throughout the West with dramatic competitions and actors eager to be participate in fundraisers. The script has been translated into French, and one publishing company has declared it "the official AIDS-Day play."
Because the tale is set in 1985, audience members who were then not alive get a feeling for the panic that set in when this fatal, mysterious illness first crept into society. Padilla wrote it as a gift to a dying friend.
"I told him, 'I'm going to raise money for the disease that killed you." (The friend died in 1985.)
Little wonder that Padilla's play has resulted in some young gays who feel isolated in small towns throughout the United States sharing with him their concerns about their predicament.
"I always tell them, 'I can't tell you how to come out, but I can tell you you're not crazy.' "
Padilla says he came out very young by simply telling his mother, "I have something to tell you."
"She said, 'I know, you like boys instead of girls, but that's not going to get you out of washing the dishes!"
Padilla charges a $5 royalty fee (to prevent the script from being considered public domain) as long as the performing troupe donates all the ticket sales (after expenses) to an AIDS charity.
Only one high school (in North Carolina) has told the author "the subject matter is not conducive to a better education." The students there, though, found their own venue and mounted a production.
"The drama teacher saw it as all about homosexuality," Padilla says. "But I think most high schools don't see it as a play that (condones or condemns) homosexuality. Three of the characters are gay, three are straight. It's not about sex, it's about staying healthy."
("Fallen Guardian Angels" will be performed 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Center of Spiritual Living, 1420 E. Harmon Ave., as a benefit for three local AIDS organizations. Tickets are $15.)
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at email@example.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.