Cleveland has lost a hero. Activist, playwright, and personality Aubrey Sorin Wertheim passed away at age 49 on January 9, 2003 due to complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Author of Popular Neurotics, which debuted on American Playhouse in 1984, Wertheim went on to write four more plays while working as an activist in Cleveland’s lesbian and gay community.
Wertheim started his activism in New York City in 1982 as director of services of the Fund for Human Dignity. There he established the first toll-free AIDS information line in the United States. While in New York he also worked on numerous theatrical productions, some under the auspices of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater.
Returning home in 1987 to serve the needs of Cleveland’s lesbian and gay community, Aubrey secured funding from the Cleveland Department of Health to transform the Gay Education and Awareness Resources (GEAR) Foundation into the present Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center.
As the center’s director of services he created the Living Room, Cleveland’s first HIV and holistic center, PRSYM youth support groups in Cleveland and Akron, as well as the Maryann Finegan Project anti-violence program, to name but a few.
In collaboration with Dr. Victoria A. Cargill, currently director of minority research and clinical studies at the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health, he developed educational programs to heighten awareness of risk reduction among youth and sexual minorities.
Throughout the nineties Wertheim continued to earn recognition for his literary talents. His play Make Way for Dyklings was first staged at Cleveland Public Theater in 1991. Nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play in 1994, Dyklings has subsequently been staged at the D.C. Art Center, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center (1996), and most recently at the Lambda Theater in Sacramento (2000).
Wertheim received the 1996 Chilcotte Prize for Costume Drama, a historical play about the first English actresses and last boy actors. The Genuine Article, a one-woman drama about the first female American columnist Fannie Fern premiered at the 1996 First Night Festival in Columbus and was performed the following year at the Cleveland Play House. A member of the Dramatist Guild and the Cleveland Play House Playwrights Unit (1994-97), Wertheim has also received support from the Ohio Arts Council, the American Antiquarian Society and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center.
Over the past few years Wertheim expanded his activist work into the area of Alzheimer’s disease, also the subject of his final drama Captivity. Just prior to his death Wertheim summed up his life’s work in a remark made to his doctor: “In the eighties I fought AIDS, in the nineties I fought Alzheimer’s and for the last two years I have been fighting lymphoma. I am tired.”
Aubrey Wertheim is survived by his lover David Chrispell of Jamestown, N.Y., his father Bob and his sister Peggy, both of Sagamore Hills, Ohio. In lieu of flowers, Wertheim requested that contributions be sent to the MetroHealth Medical Foundation for the Cancer Center, 2500 Metro Health Drive, Towers 135A, Cleveland, Ohio 44109 and the Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland, P.O. Box 6177, Cleveland, Ohio 44101. A memorial gathering is planned for spring.
He will be greatly missed by the whole Cleveland community.
--Gay People's Chronicle
January 17, 2003