Ten years ago, in Manhattan's downtown nightclub scene, Relativity's Lisa Edelstein was simply Lisa E., Queen of the Night. And it was as this rarefied creature dubbed 1986's ''top celebutante'' in The New York Times that she learned her first valuable showbiz lesson: ''Being famous is probably the most powerless position you could be in,'' pronounces the now 29-year-old. ''It just doesn't feel good, especially if there is nothing behind it.''
Edelstein chose to focus on bigger issues namely AIDS, which had claimed many of her nightclub friends. ''A whole community died,'' she recalls. ''There was so much fear and lack of education something needed to be done.'' That something was Positive Me, a one-act musical that Edelstein wrote and performed at New York's La Mama theater in 1989.
Thanks to Relativity and her role as lovelorn lesbian Rhonda the Wayne, N.J., native has another opportunity to set a strong example. ''It's really important that gay and lesbian characters are portrayed in television and film as just like everybody else,'' says Edelstein, who, prior to this part, had fallen into something of a sitcom guest-star rut: She was Paul Buchman's old girlfriend on Mad About You; George's risotto-besotted date on Seinfeld; and bratty Patty, the wife from hell on Almost Perfect.
Although Relativity's future is shaky (ABC has agreed to only four more episodes), her terrific work not only ''allows people to see me doing drama instead of another sitcom.'' It has permitted her to smash a few more stereotypes along the way. ''Rhonda is not comic relief, she's not a joke. She's a full, rounded human being.'' Much like Lisa E.