Before COVID there was AIDS, in ‘Not My First Pandemic’ at 1st Stage

A deeply personal account by César Cadabes, told with tremendous charm and compassion.

1st Stage is currently presenting The Logan Festival of Solo Performance featuring two one-man works through July 23 in Tysons. I had the pleasure of seeing the first production, Not My First Pandemic, which is written and performed by César Cadabes. The show is a poignant retelling of Cadabes’ experience through the AIDS epidemic, how the community he found shaped his life and helped guide him through adversity and the recent global pandemic.

The stage is a large open space with various set pieces to represent different locations: a bar, a high-top table with stools, and a low sofa sitting area, with a large projection screen on the upstage wall (projection design by Joan Asato).

César Cadabes. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The images and videos shown are historically and socially relevant, with news headlines and photos from marches and other political events. But there are also intimate depictions from Cadabes’ childhood, family photos, gatherings with friends, his parents as a young couple, and videos of them together as an elderly, wonderfully devoted pair.

The show starts with Cadabes dancing carefree in a club, sipping a drink, while headlines of the growing threat of an unknown virus in 2019 are introduced. Initially, as we all did when news of the spread began in countries far away, he brushed off the stories. Until the first deaths in the United States were reported and the threat could no longer be ignored.

Cadabes goes on to describe growing up in Hawaii, realizing he was gay, and discovering his HIV diagnosis. He touches on social justice and the prejudices he experienced as a Filipino American and a gay man. Finding connections and never-before-felt camaraderie from other queer folk. Plus the pain and loss of losing loved ones to the devastating disease that ravaged his community but without the focus and resources of the World Health Organization to create a vaccine and mitigate the lives lost.

I was unsure what to expect from a show centered on the recent COVID crisis and relating to the discovery of AIDS in the 1980s and the falsities that pervaded the ’90s that negatively impacted the gay community, but the overall mood of Cadabes’ story is full of hope, love, and humanity. He celebrates the individuals who rallied together and lifted each other up, the ways in which humanity prevailed during a crisis, including his parents and their support and welcoming of his friends who had not received the same acceptance from their own families.

César Cadabes. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Not My First Pandemic is a deeply personal account by César Cadabes, told with tremendous charm and compassion. Cadabes lets the audience into his life, bares his soul, and focuses on the positivity of overcoming dark times. Despite the misinformation, stigma, rejection, and bigotry, he was able to see the beauty in basic kindness and acceptance. Cadabes’ one-man show is an emotional journey that inspires the heart and mind to imagine that change and the betterment of mankind are possible.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes with no intermission.

Not My First Pandemic runs through July 23, 2023, at 1st Stage, located at 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA. Tickets are $20 for general admission and are available for purchase by calling the box office at 703-854-1856, going online, or in person before each performance.

COVID Safety: 1st Stage is now a mask-optional space. See 1st Stage’s complete COVID Safety Information here.

Creative Team
Written and Performed by César Cadabes, Director: Kat Evasco, Projection Design: Joan Asato, Sound Design: Joshua Icban, Dramaturg: Gayle Romasanta

Production Team
Stage Manager: Kathryn Dooley, Artistic Director: Alex Levy, Projection Engineer: Clara Ashe-Moore, Associate Artistic Director: Deidra Lawan Starnes

The Logan Festival of Solo Performance

Not My First Pandemic
Written and performed by César Cadabes
Directed by Kat Evasco

Mr. Yunioshi
Written, directed, and performed by J. Elijah Cho

SEE ALSO: 1st Stage announces 2023 Logan Festival of Solo Performance (news story, 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here