Bergalis' life may be AIDS play

October 30, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- So far, the tragic, mysterious drama of Kimberly Bergalis has played out in the news. Broadway might be next.

The family of the Fort Pierce, Fla., woman who got AIDS from her dentist has agreed to let Minneapolis playwright Lee Blessing develop a drama based on her life -- and death. Blessing is best known for his Broadway play, "A Walk in the Woods."

Bergalis, 23, is dying of AIDS. She was one of five patients to contract the AIDS virus from Dr. David Acer, a Stuart, Fla., dentist who died last year. Health experts still don't know how the virus was spread.

Blessing traveled to Fort Pierce three weeks ago to meet with Bergalis and her family, and take a look around town. On Monday, through his agent's office, he declined comment about the play, saying it was too premature to talk.

"He knows what our feelings are. He knows what we are trying to accomplish," said George Bergalis, Kimberly's father.

George Bergalis said the family will not get paid for the rights to the story, and will likely donate any profits to AIDS-related causes -- should the play hit it big on Broadway and make money.

Up to now, the Bergalis family has turned down offers from movie studios and publishing houses to tell the story. The family agreed to a play because it considers the medium more intimate and lasting than any other, George Bergalis said.

"It's not being done for the money," he said.

"Complete artistic authority lies with Lee Blessing," family lawyer Robert Montgomery said. "There are many, many stories that could come out of this."

Kimberly Bergalis -- who testified before a congressional committee in Washington last month to call for AIDS testing of health-care workers -- likes the idea of Blessing writing a play on her tragedy, her father said. Once the play is done, Blessing will have the authority to spin off versions for movies and books, George Bergalis said.

"The story has taken a life of its own. It has irresistible dramatic elements to it," said Carisa Cunningham, a spokeswoman for AIDS Action Council, a lobbying group in Washington, D.C.

Cunningham said the media attention surrounding Bergalis has failed to focus on other AIDS victims -- particularly gay men or drug users -- with the same type of interest and compassion.

Several AIDS and gay groups, riled that the Bergalis family and the media have portrayed Kimberly Bergalis as an "innocent victim" of AIDS, are concerned that the play's message will dwell on innocence. The statement Bergalis made to a congressional committee last month has upset activists the most: "I did not do anything wrong, yet I am being made to suffer like this."

George Bergalis said his daughter's message has been misunderstood. The mission, he said, is to bring attention to what happened to her in the dentist's chair -- and make sure it never happens to anyone else again.

"She's representing mankind -- regardless of color, religion or lifestyle," he said. "Unfortunately there are people in some groups who are trying to promote their own self-serving interests. That's unfortunate."

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