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'Beyond' the stars



According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African- Americans are the ethnic group most affected by HIV and AIDS in America. This fact has haunted and moved Oklahoma City playwright La’Charles Purvey into action with the production of his latest play, Beyond the Stratosphere.

“The play deals with HIV and AIDS in 1992 and is centered on five African-American men and their struggles with the disease. ... The title came from a particular character, a 17-year-old who is interested in astronomy,” Purvey said. “He likes to look at the stars and imagine himself beyond the stratosphere to get away from the things that he’s going through.”

Proceeds will benefit Guiding Right, Inc., a local nonprofit that provides free, confidential HIV and STD testing and risk reduction counseling, he said.

For Purvey, the play is his most personal one, inspired by the plight of many of his friends who are dealing with the disease. He said that he found writing the play cathartic and believes the audience will too.

“When I did the stage reading of Beyond the Stratosphere, I actually had a comment that said, ‘Oh my God, I have a friend who passed away from HIV in the ’90s who would’ve loved this show. It reminded me so much of him.’ I think that’s why we go to the movies and go see plays, because it helps us deal with things like this.”

It is a sentiment that lead actor Max Townsend echoed, personally relating his own foray into fatherhood with the tragedy of his character, Scotty Young, who was diagnosed with HIV after a tainted blood transfusion.

“I have a 13-month-old, and one of things that Scotty will never have is a son or daughter,” Townsend said. “For me, I take that as what if I had that virus? What if I never had the opportunity to have my daughter? How would I feel? It would be terrible. Little things like that help me identify with him and his insecurities and why he feels vulnerable at this moment in his life.”

Townsend said that no other acting job has affected him the way Stratosphere has — it has created an experience that is “hard to shake.”

“It’s a powerful message about something that I think a lot of people have forgotten about or don’t take as serious anymore,” Townsend said.

“The characters are just so real and so alive that whether you’re black or white, old or young, you’ll be able to take something away from this and apply it to life. It’s moving and unique and so different than anything I’ve done before.”

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