June 17, 2011

The Normal Heart

05 June 2011 marked the 30 years since the Centers for Disease Control reported the first cases of AIDS in the United States. This year's Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play went to Larry Kramer's powerful play The Normal Heart. And rightfully so. The heartbreaking story of the chaotic, early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York City is told through the perspective of Ned Weeks, a writer turned activist trying to warn the gay community about this deadly disease. Weeks becomes founder of an HIV/AIDS advocacy group (similar to the Gay Men's Health Crisis). He embodies the playwright's condemnation of the homophobia that resulted in the slow government response to the emerging epidemic.
The set design is very simple, white walls etched with relevant words and names from that era. The names of AIDS victims are periodically projected onto those walls and the actors, bringing home the urgency of the health crisis as the list grew longer.
Photos after the show: This is Mark Harelik hailing a cab. He played Ben, the lawyer brother of Ned Weeks. Their relationship, although loving, is complicated by Ned's homosexuality.
Patrick Breen as Mickey Marcus, one of the opinionated members of the HIV advocacy group. (I saw him last year in Next Fall.)
Tony nominee Joe Mantello is Ned Weeks---the intense, forceful, cantankerous activist.
John Benjamin Hickey played a New York Times writer named Felix Turner, his closeted lover. Mr. Hickey deservedly won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play.
The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright, also a member of the group. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the play is actually funny.
Be prepared for an emotional ride. Bring tissues. One does not have to be gay to appreciate, and identify with, the human drama unfolding on stage.
I hadn't even heard of this play, until weeks before previews began, I saw their Facebook page. If enough people "liked" their page, they were going to donate $10,000 to Freedom to Marry. And they did. I had heard about the shameful official response to the AIDS crisis, but I never realized the extent of it until I saw the show.
Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace as Bruce Niles, elected President of the group despite his closeted status.
Congratulations to all the cast members for their brave, eloquent, stirring performances.
I didn't realize I would have such a visceral response to the show. The next day, out of the blue, I burst into tears as I recalled the experience. Now that's great theatre.
Broadway newbie Ellen Barkin was chosen Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Dr. Emma Brookner. What sealed the win for me? Probably her impassioned monologue directed at the powers-that-be who continued to ignore the epidemic.
This is a can't-miss production. Scientific studies have shown that we are all the same, no matter what the race, creed, sexual orientation, color. The Normal Heart proves that there is no such thing as normal or abnormal. The human heart is just about love, tolerance, and compassion.


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