In Intimacies, the first of five solo performances that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Communication Studies collectively bills as “Solo Takes On: Divas, Detentions, and Diaspora,” Michael Kearns appeared at The ArtsCenter on November 13th and 14th to present his own devastating views on AIDS. Kearns gave us, straight up, six amazingly dissimilar characterizations with only a single connecting thread — each character has contracted the HIV virus. Written two decades ago, when AIDS was a death sentence, Intimacies

tells us exactly how and why each character suffered the disease and how it so grimly affected his life.

Michael Kearns, co-founder of Artists Confronting AIDS, is a staunch proponent for AIDS research and support; and he has written and performed many works on the subject. This production at The ArtsCenter marks the 20th year he has performed Intimacies, and it is as fresh, alive, and potent now as it was two decades ago.

Intimacies pulled no punches; these six characterizations were as devastatingly real as Kearns could make them. Using only a long, red scarf as his prop, Kearns took us on a tour of the globe as he recreated his myriad of men and women dying slow, terrible deaths. In a swift, one-hour tour-de-force, he painted six portraits of people who came to their fates, not because of whims or twists of fate, but because of their own foolish, unsuspecting actions. The year was 1989, and AIDS had already struck the world horribly, first through the homosexual community, and then spreading out to snare anyone who crossed its path.

The first character was Fernando, a masculine and virile Spanish flamenco dancer. A married man with children, he was seduced by an American boy in his early twenties. From the moment Fernando spoke, we could see the pain, in his body and on his face. Using his scarf, Kearns brought out six people, miles apart, totally unrelated, but all fatally struck. Patrick, a Hollywood “pretty boy,” talked of how he could not tell his lover; that he would “walk into the sea at sunset,” a “perfect Hollywood ending.”

Big Red was a black New York hooker, known for her flaming head of hair. Now she had lost even that unique signature: her head is bare and her body and voice are broken. Father Anthony, an Italian priest, spoke of his twin brother (“never Vincent, always Vinnie”) and how he watched as Vinnie slowly shrank into death in a nameless hospital ward. His final words to his brother confessed his terrible secret, that he, too, was HIV positive. Phoenix, a homeless old beggar living under a bridge in Arizona, was now blind from his affliction.

But the most stunning characterization was a strikingly real portrayal of Marilyn Monroe as she spoke to us from beyond the grave. She recalled a conversation she had on the telephone, the last one she ever had with “Roy,” the actor Rock Hudson. “There is a little girl inside me,” he told Norma Jean, “that I have trampled to death.” It was a phenomenal portrayal and the only one to look at a character in the third person. Rock Hudson never publicly admitted having AIDS. Kearns revealed what was then a shocking conclusion by having “Marilyn” divulge it, instead.

Kearns used all the actor’s skills to bring to brief life these six diverse characters, from the most famous to the least, from the divine to the doomed. The work was chilling, the performance brilliant, in conception and intensity. Kearns is and has been a superb technician and a powerful voice; and he has dedicated his life to fighting this terrible, and still incurable, disease.

Note: We’d be pleased to list remaining performances in this series if the presenters at UNC would share the details with us. For now, the best thing for those seeking more information to do is call 919/962-2311. If you do, please tell ’em CVNC sent you.