Blood Spill
by Lee Raines

Cast of Characters
ANGELA TURNER
Black. About 40. Artistic Director of a top-tier New York Theater company. Smartly dressed. No-nonsense.
KENNY KING
Black. About 40. HIV-positive activist and playwright. Dressed in full ACT UP attire. Passionate and self-confident.

Setting
1991. New York City. ANGELA TURNER’s well-appointed office in midtown Manhattan.

ANGELA TURNER is seated at her desk. Her phone rings. She picks it up.

ANGELA: Yes?
(ANGELA sighs, takes a breath.)

Great! Send him in.
(KENNY enters.)

Kenny! Oh my God! Kenny King!

KENNY: Hi Angela.

ANGELA: Hey, don’t I get a hug?

KENNY: Of course.

(KENNY and ANGELA hug.)

ANGELA: Wow, wow, wow, fifteen fucking years!

KENNY: No way, Angela, we graduated in ’76. It’s only 1991, that’s—wait, you’re right. Fifteen? That’s crazy!

ANGELA: Well, you look fantastic. This look—it’s really good on you.

KENNY: It’s not a fashion statement, but thanks. You look good, too, Angela. Nice office.

ANGELA: Honestly, it’s a little much for me, but I have to butter up rich donors in here. Don’t worry, I’m still a slob, but nowadays all my mess is stuffed into these fancy cabinets. Sit, sit. (KENNY sits.) How have we not crossed paths since college? You’ve been in New York this whole time?

KENNY: Yeah, but I work mostly out of town.

ANGELA: I saw that résumé of yours! The Guthrie, the Goodman, you’ve worked in some fabulous theaters, kiddo, and played some delicious roles! But you were always such a fine actor. And you’re a writer now? When did you start writing?

KENNY: A few years ago. This is only my second play.

ANGELA: Wait. That show downtown was your first play? (KENNY nods.) The show that got all the reviews? That item in the New Yorker? That was your first play? Kenny, do you have any idea how many asses I have to kiss to get an item in the New Yorker?

KENNY: It was only a couple lines.

ANGELA: It was a paragraph! In the New Yorker! They called you an “audacious up-and-comer”!

KENNY: Too bad it came out after the show closed.

ANGELA: Who cares? Those things can launch a career, Kenny! I am so bummed I didn’t get to see the show. And Kenny, while we’re on the subject, I am so sorry I didn’t make it to David’s memorial service. I got your beautiful invitation, but we were up to our eye balls in tech. I’m so sorry.

KENNY: It’s okay. I knew it was a long shot. I just wanted you to know about it. David thought the world of you. He always knew you’d be a success.

ANGELA: I heard the service was lovely.

KENNY: Yeah. It was nice.

ANGELA: How long has it been, two months?

KENNY: Three.

ANGELA: Three months. I just cannot get over the fact that you two stayed together since college.

KENNY: Well . . . David and I weren’t lovers.

ANGELA: No?

KENNY: In college, yeah. But when we moved to New York, that kinda— fizzled out.

ANGELA: I’m so sorry. I thought Danielle told me—

KENNY: Yeah, no. That’s partly our fault. We let people think what they want ed. But technically we were just friends. Close friends, y’know, but—I dunno. It was complicated.

ANGELA: Got it. This must be so hard on you. David was such a love.

KENNY: Yeah. (beat) Is it okay if we change the subject?

ANGELA: Yes, yes, of course.

KENNY: And Angela, listen. I just wanna say, no matter what, I really appreciate you reading my play and giving me this opportunity. It’s been a great experience, even getting this far, so thanks, and if it’s a no, y’know, no hard feelings. “That’s show biz”, right? So. Yes or no?

ANGELA: Kenny, you have written quite a play.

KENNY: It’s no, isn’t it?

ANGELA: I’m sorry.

KENNY: God dammit.

ANGELA: It was a very difficult decision.

KENNY: Was it? Really? What did you decide? Whose play are you doing?

ANGELA: We’re doing Dream Deferred.

KENNY: Are you shitting me?

ANGELA: Dream Deferred is a good play, Kenny. It’s beautifully written, with some terrific roles for the actors. Its arguments are clear and persuasive. (KENNY scoffs.) Your play, Blood Spill—and granted, there is some powerful, powerful writing here Kenny, but there are serious structural problems. And technically, I mean, there’s—all that blood. Hold on, where’s that section? I flagged it.

(ANGELA opens KENNY’s script.)

Here we go, “The stage is empty except for a large fire hose. The nozzle of the hose starts to move back and forth, and blood begins to drip from the nozzle. The hose slithers across the stage, pouring out more and more blood, until it is a writhing, twisting mass, spurting blood in all directions. Finally, the hose shoots straight up, lets loos a long orgasmic stream of blood, and falls to the ground, spent and exhausted.” That’s quite a mess, Kenny. And we’re still in Act One! Audiences don’t like blood spraying around like that.

KENNY: They’re not supposed to like it, Angela. It’s a play. It’s not a beauty contest. I want the audience to get upset.

ANGELA: Oh, they’ll be upset all right. All the way to the dry cleaners. Kenny, I’m sorry, I just don’t see how this play is producible. We are talking fake blood, right?

KENNY: Of course it’s fake blood. And people don’t mind a little mess. Look at that Gallagher guy. He smashes watermelons with a sledgehammer.

ANGELA: Kenny, if you ever compare a show in my theater to a Gallagher performance, I will ruin you!

KENNY: Fine, if it’s such a big deal, the audience doesn’t have to get sprayed. The designers can work it out so the blood stays on stage. We’ll spray ‘em when the show moves to Broadway.

ANGELA: We’re still talking a lot of blood, Kenny. We have a budget.

KENNY: Oh, come on. This place has tons of money. You did that show with all the rain last year. This is just rain with red food coloring.

ANGELA: That fucking rain show. I swore “never again”. Kenny listen. I love your passion. And I adore you. I always have. But even if we could solve the technical issues, my audience is older. And affluent. Yes, it’s an important issue, I get that, but with this subject, you need to appeal to people’s better instincts, their sense of reason.

KENNY: Oh, that’s what Dream Deferred does? This “well-written play” with lots of “terrific roles”—all of them “heroic” in some way so you can talk Hollywood actors into playing them and pull some more suckers into your seats?

ANGELA: Stop right there, Kenny. You think insulting me, my audience or my actors is gonna get you anywhere? I invited you here as a favor because we have a shared history and I wanted to tell you in person. It’s good news, Kenny. You made it into the top five out of over three hundred submissions. Even agent submissions. I thought you’d be happy.

KENNY: Happy that my play isn’t getting produced? No, Angela, I’m not happy. I can’t take a no on this.

ANGELA: This isn’t college, Kenny. You can’t argue with the professor for a higher grade. You got very, very, very close, but my job is to put asses in seats. And I don’t see Blood Spill doing that. P.S., your show comes with a huge budget.

KENNY: You think I don’t know that? Angela, that’s why Blood Spill has to be done here. It needs a prestige theater. If it’s done here, people will be talking about the show before it even opens. People will be talking about AIDS. That’s what needs to happen. AIDS needs to be part of the public conversation! You can take a risk. You’ve got tons of subscribers.

ANGELA: I’m sorry, Kenny, we’re already moving forward on Dream Deferred. The calls are going out this afternoon.

KENNY: You haven’t made the calls yet?

ANGELA: Kenny, stop, you’re killing me! If it’s any consolation, the final decision came down to two choices.

KENNY: God dammit! You’re telling me it was down to two fucking AIDS plays and you chose the safe one? The one with no real villains, the one where no one worries about money, which means it should be taking place on Mars, the play that makes people feel good about themselves when they should be out in the streets screaming for the blood of Reagan, Bush, Quayle and Clinton? That appeals to our “better instincts”? Not to mention that awful title. Jesus, he steals his title from Langston fucking Hughes, from Raisin in the fucking Sun, Lorraine Fucking Hansberry, and there aren’t any black people in it? What the fuck? Is that even legal? Who does that?

ANGELA: Kenny, you might wanna soft-pedal the trashing of other playwrights in these situations.

KENNY: It’s okay, I know the guy. We’re friends. He sent me the script for feedback. That was awkward. I swear, if I have to read one more AIDS play where the dead guy shows up at the end all dressed in white in a fucking spotlight, I’m gonna slit my wrists—Hey! That could be a good bit. Listen, listen, seriously—there’s a guy in the audience, right? First row center. He’s an actor, a plant, right? He’s all disheveled, crazy-lookin’, he makes a big commotion finding his seat. Halfway through the first act, he stands up, turns to the audience and yells, “This play fucking sucks! This is supposed to be about AIDS? It’s a lie! I have AIDS! This is what AIDS is like!” And he takes out a knife and slashes his own throat. He’s like, “Ughlllkkk!” Blood spurts!

ANGELA: Kenny, stop! No! (beat) You had me until the blood spurted.

KENNY: It doesn’t have to spurt! It doesn’t! He can have a friend with him! Yeah, a girl sitting next to him, and uh, yeah, a scarf, she has a white scarf and she wraps his neck and comforts him and helps him up the aisle, and she’s like, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry! He’s not really like this. It’s the AIDS! It’s all the medications he’s on! I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” (beat) The audience is like, “What the fuck? Did that really happen?” It’s so perfect. I’m putting it in the show.

ANGELA: I might be going crazy. But that could work.

KENNY: See? See! You get me! You totally get me!

ANGELA: “Totally” might be pushing it. But I do understand you. Kenny, let me ask you a question. Why did you write this play?

KENNY: Because I want people to know what it’s like to have AIDS. And I want people talking about it. For Christ’s sake, it’s 1991, we’re ten years in, and nobody talks about AIDS. Even in New York, even in the theater, if you’re not queer or HIV-positive, it’s like it’s not even happening.

There’s a lot of blood in the show because, right after I got my diagnosis, this was ’87, March 5th, anyway, the next morning, the first thought that popped into my head, even before my eyes opened was, “My blood is toxic. I have poison in my blood.” My first thought every morning for a year.

And also. . . when I think about people with AIDS, and caring for them, all I think about is blood. Mostly because of David. He was in hospital after hospital, each one worse than the one before. He’d run out of money, and he didn’t have insurance and the hospitals didn’t know what to do with him, because he had this intense panic reaction to IVs. Whenever they put one in, his first reaction, like primal reaction was to yank it out. He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d pull them out in his sleep. He had toxoplasmosis and he was on way too many drugs, so his mind was shot and he was so full of rage at that point. But come on, who wouldn’t be?

Sometimes he’d be lying there, quiet, calm, and you’re like, thank God, the morphine kicked in and he’d bolt up and scream, “Auuuughhhh!” and yank out the IV. Blood would shoot everywhere, he’d scream, and cry, the nurses would take forever, and I’d have to clean it up, blood all over me, on the walls, the floor, everywhere. They had to strap him to his bed, Angela. For his own good, but he didn’t understand that. He’d scream at me, “They’re torturing me! Why are you letting them do this? You promised me! I hate you! I hate your fucking guts!”

I didn’t know what to do. I was trying to work, cater-waitering, but I kept having to give up my shifts. I had to ask my parents for rent money. I couldn’t even tell them why. I couldn’t bring him home, I had roommates. He ended up going home to his parents. In fucking Ohio. His awful, evil, hateful family. I promised I’d be with him at the end. But I couldn’t. I failed him, Angela. And there was so much blood.

ANGELA: Kenny. I’m not promising anything, but if, if we do your play, would you be willing to work with a dramaturg?

KENNY: Are you kidding me? Yes yes yes!

ANGELA: You’re gonna have to really work with her, Kenny. You can’t get all defensive. There’ll be cuts. Big cuts.

KENNY: I love cuts! I’m fine with cuts! Angela, I can do this, I swear!

ANGELA: Kenny, this is absolutely confidential. Tell no one! And I’m not
promising anything! (ANGELA picks up phone.) Danielle? Have you made any calls about Dream Deferred? Good, good, hold off on them. Meanwhile, I need to meet with Ann, Craig and Terrence today, early afternoon. Mandatory. It’s about a possible change in the season. (ANGELA hangs up phone.) Kenny. That story you just told me about why you wrote this play. Have you told that to anyone else? Was that rehearsed?

KENNY: Well, I mean…it’s all true. But maybe.

END OF PLAY


Lee Raines was diagnosed HIV-positive thirty-two years ago in March 1989. Over the years, he has worked with ACT UP, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, AIDS Walk New York, GMHC, and Hollywood Supports. He is featured in Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS, and The AIDS Generation–Stories of Survival and Resilience. Blood Spill was developed through the Write It Out! workshop for HIV-positive writers led by Donja R. Love and program manager Timothy DuWhite. A former singer/dancer/actor, Lee performed with Chita Rivera in the musical Chicago. Blood Spill won Honorable Mention in the 2021 Chris Hewitt Awards.

Write It Out!

When we think of AIDS-themed plays, we may harken back to the 1980s and 1990s: The Normal Heart, by Larry Kramer, Love! Valour! Compassion!, by Terrence McNally, or Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, to name a few. But if you are interested in moving beyond the canonical, which tends to center white, gay and cisgender men in their narratives, there are many plays to check out. This 2002 anthology would be a great start: Positive/Negative: Women of Color and HIV/AIDS: A Collection of Plays, edited by Imani Harrington and Chyrell D. Bellamy. Or The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel. Or Before It Hits Home by Cheryl West. Or one in two by Donja R. Love. And pay close attention to the pieces coming out of Write It Out!, the workshop series for people living with HIV created and taught by Love, with program manager (and fellow playwright) Timothy DuWhite. We are so glad the following writers (and others) are sharing their talent and insights with the world:

The Glorious Struggle of The Charismatic Hero by Ebony Payne-English, Write It Out! 2020 cohort

Blood Spill, by Lee Raines, Write It Out! 2020 cohort

Five Years by Alfredo Trejo III, Write It Out! 2021 cohort

Read on!

—Chael Needle