HOUSTON -- In late 1995, Rob Bundy, then a freelance director based in New York, attended a private reading of his friend Gary Bonasorte's play Ascendancy at Manhattan Theatre Club.
The play, based on Bonasorte's experiences with the Community Research Initiative on AIDS (which he co-founded in New York in 1990), examines a group of strangers who bond while undergoing clinical drug trials in a New York AIDS clinic.
"I was pretty moved by it, even in its embryonic form," Bundy recalls of that private reading. Shortly afterward, Bundy was named artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston. And last spring Bundy and Bonasorte, whose other plays include The Aunts and Killing Real Estate Women, workshopped Ascendancy at Stages.
Bonasorte, Bundy, and the Houston actors spent an intensive week researching and revising the play's characters and values. A subsequent public reading, directed by Bundy, was so well-received that Ascendancy gained a slot on the Stages' current season lineup.
Ascendancy will have its first performance Jan. 22. "It's not just another AIDS play," Bundy stresses. "Hope reverberates beyond the confines of the plot. It's about survival of all kinds. It's very spiritual."
The same actors as before are taking part in this latest incarnation, and Bundy is once again directing. In recent weeks the script has been further fine-tuned.
After its Houston world premiere, Bonasorte and Bundy will mount Ascendancy in May in New York at the RattleStick Theatre in the Village.
"We can't afford to bring the cast with us," says Bundy with a sigh. "I'm heartbroken."
Ascendancy is being performed Jan. 22-Feb. 15 at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston. For tickets, $10-$28, call 1-800-776-6048.
-- By Peter Szatmary