Immaculate Infection is an adventure story about a widowed Puerto Rican mother and her first day attempting to get treatment for HIV. When Yolanda runs into Mary Cohn ("maricon" is Spanish for faggot), a Jewish drag queen and long time survivor, they seem like oil and water, but they soon learn about themselves and what they can offer each other as they face the horrors of loss and the threat of death. Issues of class, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, language, and cultural tradition get tangled up in their tale of human independence and survival.
Immaculate Infection was conceived while Rybeck was working as an AIDS activist in Costa Rica, where the largest HIV populations are heterosexual women and gay men. He became fascinated with the cultural differences between the two demographics and the different needs of housewives with HIV and positive gay men. "The struggle between the two groups is fascinating and powerful and familiar," he says.
The collaborators began working on the piece a year and a half ago. They did workshops with HIV positive adults and kids that explored how different cultures deal with the struggle. "We didn't use their stories," Rybeck explains. "We used the texture of their lives--we used their relationships." The early development of the piece came by way of working with the AIDS Action Committee, Boston Living Center, and Casa Iris, an agency started by a woman who felt she was not being served by AIDS services. "I learned a lot off the bat. A lot was learned around sharing food. Sharing food is a key image in Immaculate Infection."
Rybeck says he spent decades trying to understand his own white-male privilege--and this show challenges it. "If all these gay white guys grew up with privilege, what's the perk? How can we get something out of it? What can our community get from it? I don't think me pretending to have no privilege is the answer to what use can it be."
Rybeck is thrilled to be working in a show with two of his favorite artists. All three creators have other artistic roles in Immaculate Infection: Cotto Escalera directs the production, Rybeck plays Mary Cohn, and Ortiz Cortes play Yolanda. "Brenda creates work with a direct style. She has vast knowledge of international theater strategies," says Rybeck. "Noelia is one of my favorite actresses: Anna Magnani with a sense of humor. These two women made me think about what you do with the fact that you really might die, [think about the fact] that there must be a way of living that is about survival yet remains true to the experience of dying." The right and quest for survival hold a special fascination for Rybeck.