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Beyond The Birds And Bees


New York Times Television Review, by John J. O'Connor, December 17, 1996

WNET's ''Sex and Other Matters of Life and Death'' is bound to raise a few hackles, especially among entities like the New York City Board of Education, which is shown turning a deaf ear to the argument that ignorance equals death when the subject of sex education was raised a couple of years ago. Produced and directed by Roger Weisberg, the documentary takes for granted that no matter how many warnings they are given, adolescents are going to engage in sex. How could it be otherwise in a society that blatantly uses sex to sell everything from sneakers to beer? This program traces a year in the life of a company of teen-agers called Star Theater. Founded by Dr. Cydelle Berlin, it is part of the Adolescent AIDS Program at Mount Sinai Hospital. The carefully prepared actors visit public and private schools and various centers established for young people. Their psychodramas cover everything from unprotected sex to masturbation, a subject that can set even Presidents to unseemly quaking. There is an intriguing reality-fiction to much of the documentary. After their performance, the actors answer questions from the audiences while remaining in the character they have been playing. Some of the performers are indeed H.I.V.-positive themselves. Evan Ruderman, Dr. Berlin's daughter, actually has full-blown AIDS, something Dr. Berlin did not know before she started Star Theater. Nothing is simple, or simple-minded, in this essay. What does come across powerfully is the eagerness of some young people to make a difference while recognizing that it is a battle. As one of the actors, Jamaul, says about his own lapses in regard to safer sex, ''I think I have like this Superman type of psychosis.'' Meanwhile, the faces of those students who do show up for the performances radiate an eagerness to learn. Beneath the occasional giggling, there is serious concern. This documentary gives them some badly needed hard facts.

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