“You’re my little brother, and I’m gonna teach you how to feel good, how to feel real good. But we gotta be quiet, real quiet, ’cause we don’t wanna get caught.” This conspiratorial line is not taken from an episode of Leave It to Beaver but from Robert Chesley’s 1985 play, Jerker, which had its world premiere the following year at Los Angeles’ Celebration Theater. It told a story about two men, J.R. and Burt, whose only connection is a string of intense phone-sex conversations. The play’s raucous language and simulated masturbation shamelessly proclaimed a new kind of gay theater — right in the eye of the AIDS hurricane. (Chesley, who also wrote Night Sweats and Dog Plays, succumbed in 1990.) For all its freewheeling sexuality, Jerker draws its true force from the empathy and trust that develop between J.R. and Burt as the plague’s shadow lengthens. This landmark work will be presented in a 20th-anniversary production under the auspices of its original director, Michael Kearns, during a month of queer art sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Center, Highways, Tom of Finland Foundation and Space at Fountain’s End. Kearns will also stage a two-weekend viewing of The Tina Dance, the acclaimed, collectively written memoir about that other epidemic, crystal meth. Jerker: Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., Aug. 4-5 & 11-12, 8:30 p.m. (310) 315-1459; and at Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., Aug. 18-19 & 25-26, 8 p.m. (323) 856-6168. The Tina Dance: L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theater, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., Aug. 3-5 & 10-12, 8 p.m. (323) 860-7300.

—Steven Mikulan

LA Weekly