It is possible that the majority of this generation’s LGBTQ+ community have never heard about Dr. John E. Fryer’s famous 1972 speech to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) conference that convinced the psychiatrists to remove homosexuality as a mental illness from the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders the following year. Dr. Fryer delivered his speech as “Dr. Anonymous” while wearing a facial mask resembling President Richard M. Nixon, and in it he declared, “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.”

Being the 50th anniversary of the APA decision, Playwright and Director Dahn Hiuni has written a docu-dramedy titled SICK with an original score by Grammy-nominated composer, Larry Williams, which will have its world premiere on June 9th as part of the 2023 Hollywood Fringe Festival at the Broadwater Theater MainstageSICK won the West Hollywood Pride Art Festival Playwriting Competition (in association with the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) in 2020 and received a virtual reading. Hiuni’s other full-length play MURMURS & INCANTATIONS was produced as part of the New York International Fringe Festival in 2016 where it won the Award for Excellence in Playwriting. MURMURS was also presented as an immersive theatre experience in the former Chelsea art gallery, Mixed Greens, in 2013. Tickets to see SICK are now on sale.

Courtesy of the playwright

Poster – Courtesy of the playwright

Hiuni is a former musical theater dancer whose career has had many changes.  The associate producer Peggy Burt is a dancer and the lead actor Mikel Farber is a former professional ballet dancer. Hiuni shared with me that he truly enjoyed working with actors who have danced because they understand the discipline it takes to become a better performer. He added that there is also a language that is shared even in theater.

“When I was a dancer,” Hiuni explained, “my favorite role in my favorite play was Paul in A Chorus Line. It is a big part of my life and the best thing that ever happened on Broadway. I had a ten minute monologue, standing onstage as Paul, describing what it was like being a Puerto Rican drag queen in the late sixties.” He said that he had first seen A Chorus Line when he was ten years old and that it played a great role in his life as a dancer.

There are many dancers who are members of or connected to the LBGTQ+ community. During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ‘90s, the art community lost a great number of male dancers and artists. Hiuni told me that the performers in SICK are a mixture of identities along the spectrum.

“Some actors identify as queer, some gay. Some straight,” he said. “There are nine in the group and they are all over the map. Which is why I think perhaps your readership that know dance would appreciate this story.”

Hiuni’s journey to becoming a playwright and director was not a straight line. He was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, spent some time in Canada training at the Winnipeg Royal Ballet, and performed professionally in Musical Theater. Later Hiuni shifted his focus into becoming a painter, then as a video artist and morphed once again into becoming a performance artist. He just recently moved to Los Angeles from New York City where he did most of his performing at the very downtown and avant-garde venues P.S. 122, Franklin Furnace, Artists Space and Thread Waxing Space.

“At some point these monologues that I was writing began to resemble theater,” Hiuni stated. “So I had to morph again into a playwright.

During the interview Hiuni explained how he was inspired to write this play after listening to an episode of This American Life by journalist Alix Spiegel who is also the granddaughter of the president of the APA at the time, who came out as being gay in his 70s.

“It was one of the most fascinating pieces of radio journalism that I’d ever heard,” Hiuni said. “And I thought, why has this not been turned into a movie or a play.” Hiuni did his research and indeed no one had made a film or play on this subject. Describing Spiegel’s reporting as the most dramatic thing he had ever heard, Hiuni wrote what became SICK. It took three years of research and another couple of years of writing drafts of the play.

Activist Ron Gold, left, at the 1972 APA Conference in Dallas - Photo courtesy of the playwright

Activist Ron Gold, left, at the 1972 APA Conference in Dallas – Photo courtesy of the playwright

I was interested in how Hiuni came to title his play SICK and he explained that he used some of the historical documents that he found which included transcriptions of actual speeches given at APA conferences. One of those speeches was delivered by journalist and gay activist Ron Gold who was a survivor of aversion therapy – a method which claimed to “cure” homosexuality. Hiuni described how Gold and all the other speakers at the conference used the term ‘sick’ a lot during their speeches, rather than mentally ill.

“I thought that this is a perfect title,” Hiuni said. Oddly enough, there is now a new documentary about the same subject titled “CURED”.

We discussed the importance of SICK being presented at this time in history. Hiuni said that as a gay man of a certain age he was not a member of the generation that had to directly deal with homosexuality being labeled an illness. Hiuni came out as gay in the late 1970s and did actually take himself to see a therapist.

(L-R) Nick Bloch as Dr. Larry Schwartz and Mikel Farber as Ron Gold in rehearsal for SICK - Photo by Peggy Burt

(L-R) Nick Bloch as Dr. Larry Schwartz and Mikel Farber as Ron Gold in rehearsal for SICK – Photo by Peggy Burt

“The shrink was wonderful,” Hiuni said with a broad smile, saying this his shrink said “Just embrace it. You cannot change this. Just live your life.” That said, Hiuni has great sympathy and empathy with the previous generation of gays that did live through those times.

“It seems that it is always one step forward and two steps back in this country,” he added. “We are suddenly facing a barrage of anti-LGBT sentiment and legislation. Just when you think that you can let your guard down, it seems we have to keep on with the resistance. So this is an activist play and it’s unabashedly very, very critical of psychiatry. “

Hiuni informed me that lobotomies and shock therapy were used on homosexuals as late as the early 70s, and that although there are scenes of both these medical methods in SICK, that they are treated in such a way so as not to be too horrific.

Hiuni explained that 90 percent of SICK came from his writing, thinking and imagining what it must have been like for homosexuals to live through those times, but that he does lift verbatim sections of Gold and Dr. Fryer’s speeches.  Both Dr. Fryer and Ron Gold appear as characters in Hiuni’s play. The lead role of Ron Gold is portrayed by Mikel Farber.

Cast of SICK by Dahn Hiuni - Photo courtesy of the playwright

Cast of SICK by Dahn Hiuni – Photo courtesy of the playwright

The entire cast includes Mikel Farber in the lead role, along with Maya Knell, Daniel Kuhlman, Kevin Michael Moran, Keith Bush, Nick Blocha, Robert E. Lee, Michael Garcia Otavo and Gregg Rogen.

“I wrote the play around two important speeches,” Hiuni said. “One by John Fryer in the mask, and the most important one is by Ron Gold at the end of the play where he basically stops the APA panelists cold with his incredible speech called “Stop it! You’re making me sick!”

Due to the fact that it is part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and time for set up and striking is limited, the set for SICK was kept very minimal and “symbolic.” There are projections, music, and lighting. Hiuni said that he hired a student to assist him with the props. On top of everything else, Hiuni is a professor at Woodbury University in Burbank and at UCLA extension.

I inquired if it was a teaching job that brought him to Los Angeles. With a smile, Hiuni answered, “No. I couldn’t deal with the subway and the winter, and that was enough after 25 years living in New York.”

Hiuni also reflected on his earlier play MURMURS & INCANTATIONS that is extremely important to him. He described that it is juxtaposing two terrible tragedies in his and his family’s life. “The Holocaust and my own Holocaust in the form of AIDS,” he said. “I hope to revive it.”

SICK is a very important story about a time in the history of homosexuality that has not been told by other theater and filmmakers, so for this reason alone, readers should go see Hiuni’s play.

“There would be no gay liberation without this important step,” Hiuni explained. “To make us officially not mentally ill was the first step. There is an entire generation, including actors in my play, who had no idea about any of this. They vaguely heard of Stonewall and everything is “fabulous” today. If I can share information with new generations, then I feel obliged to do it.” We spoke later about how theater is a great way to help fill in the gaps often left by the educational system in this country.

(L-R) Maya Knell (who plays Barbara Gittings), Mikel Farber (who plays Ron Gold) and playwright-director Dahn Hiuni - Photo by Peggy Burt

(L-R) Maya Knell (who plays Barbara Gittings), Mikel Farber (who plays Ron Gold) and playwright-director Dahn Hiuni – Photo by Peggy Burt

The production of SICK is very symbolic of a time in history and is being produced at the fiftieth anniversary of the APA’s declassification, and the APA’s 2023 conference is taking place once again in California. “Unfortunately it is happening in San Francisco and not LA,” Hiuni said. “Otherwise I would have had 5000 psychiatrists to invite to the play.”

“These are rights that should not be taken for granted,” he added. “If Roe vs. Wade can be overturned, then so can gay marriage. SICK is a play about a very specific demographic or minority. One could, however, substitute in many other discriminated against groups. “So the play is a metaphor. In the end, the play suggests that any kind of diagnosis making is a social construction. That is a very curious and potentially dangerous thing.”

Hiuni is proud of the fact that he has been an activist his entire life and that he is now an activist playwright who deals with big social issues. He went on to explain, however, that although SICK is about an extremely important and serious step for the APA to have made, it does tell the story through humor.

“It is a very funny play, Jeff! It goes against the grain,” he said. “On one hand it has shock therapy and lobotomies and on the other hand it is very campy and very funny.” As the press release says: SICK tells “the story of the early 1970s struggle to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders with humor and poignancy, 70s music, and the ghost of Freud himself, the play affirms the power of the individual to reach toward equality and human rights.”

Having spent just thirty minutes with Hiuni, I could tell that he has a great sense of humor and loves to laugh.


WHAT: SICK, written and directed by award-winning playwright, Dahn Hiuni. Grammy-nominated composer Larry Williams provides an original score.
WHENSICK is being produced during Pride Month June 8-25, 2023.
WHERE: Broadwater Theater Mainstage, on Hollywood’s Theater Row, 1078 Lillian Way Los Angeles CA 90038.
TICKETS: $20 general seating. For more information and to reserve tickets,  please visit and/or

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Dahn Hiuni – Playwright and Director of SICK  – Photo courtesy of the artist.