Terrified of dying from AIDS but even more afraid of living with it, the title character of this romantic comedy--a gay actor/waiter-- makes the ultimate safe choice: to give up sex entirely. Determined to find both a substitute for sex and the meaning of life in the cruel meaninglessness of an epidemic, Jeffrey embarks on a journey through a picaresque and postmodern landscape. What he discovers is that while his desperate renunication of human connection may remove him from the physical experience of death, it will not protect him from the emotional experience of loss.


The renunciation of sex has provided comedic material for playwrights from Aristophanes in Lysistrata to Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost. And while Jeffrey is an important addition to the long tradition of western romantic comedy, Rudnick's most significant contribution is to the emergent tradition of what is called "AIDS theatre." Jeffrey became the first successful American romantic comedy in response to the epidemic, reflecting the development from the early efforts of playwrights to comprehend the shocking event of AIDS through serious and often sentimental drama to their later endeavors to accommodate the daily reality of AIDS through experimental and often satiric theatre. Thirteen years of living with what he describes as the unimaginable catastrophe of AIDS inspired Rudnick to blend "the highest farce with the most devastating tragedy" in Jeffrey.

The chaos and grotesqueness of living in the midst of dying is mirrored in the episodic and absurdist form of the play. And the characters, though openly gay and unabashedly sexual, are disarming rather than threatening; the protagonist's midwestern sweetness and simplicity is both appealing and apolitical. There is cynicism in Jeffrey, but there is also catharsis. Fully aware that dazzling wit and uncontrollable hilarity can poignantly express and effectively release emotional pain, Rudnick writes: "Only money, rage, and science can conquer AIDS, but only laughter can make the nightmare bearable." (p. xi)


Jeffrey won an Obie Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and the John Gassner Award for Outstanding New American Play.


Plume Penguin

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