Night sweats. Sores that wouldn’t heal. Friends dying at an alarming rate. Larry Kramer knew something was wrong. He fought back as loud and as strong as he could. He wrote about this real life plague that had descended upon the gay community that he was a part of. Never afraid. The result was “The Normal Heart” which was first produced in 1985 and has now been revived in a blistering, heart pounding and emotionally gripping production with an all star cast and brilliantly directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe.
But it is the writing of Larry Kramer that shines throughout. Passionate. Courageous. Obnoxious. Sarcastic. Sincere. And not without humor, no matter how horrible the circumstances.
It was a time when most gay men stayed in the closet. Men who had respectable jobs that would be in jeopardy if it was discovered that they were gay or leading a crusade to enlighten everyone about this unknown disease that was killing them off by the dozens and spreading to the international gay and straight communities.
And so Larry Kramer created Ned Weeks – his alter ego – the Jewish guy with the low self esteem that had been shrunk so many times that he couldn’t find love thinking it was his fault that he was like he was – gay. A guy with a bad temper and a big mouth. That he would use to awaken all those around him to the problem. Fighting the Mayor of New York, the President of the United States and the New York Times to give support to his crusade – which was ignored. Fighting with his brother Ben (Mark Harelik) for pro bono support for the non-profit group he created – The Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
Joe Mantello is Ned and gives a riveting and explosive performance of a man against a wall of indifference. Where the NY Times would front page a story of a few Tylenol deaths and refuse to do a story on this strange disease. Deaths were escalating and it was thought that it was being transmitted through sex. That’s what wheel chair bound Dr. Emma Brookner (a volcano waiting to erupt Ellen Barkin) thought.
A victim of polio she seems to be the only one who cares that something be done and done right now to stop the horror that she knows will grow worse. She is determined to awaken the lethargy of those who could help and in her Act II scene with an Examining Doctor (Richard Topol) she finally explodes in a rage pleading for research funding that will be imbedded in your mind forever.
As Felix Turner, the unlikely man that Ned falls in love with, John Benjamin Hickey turns in a fully developed picture of a closeted gay man, writing for The NY Times Style Section but afraid to approach the paper to cover this developing story. It is their journey that will move you to tears.
Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright – a self described Southern Bitch – has his caustic character down pat and supplies much of the humor of the piece. The rest of the ensemble cast whether sitting on stage watching the action or moving set pieces or becoming supporting players are each perfectly cast.
The white box set designed by David Rockwell is well suited for the amazing projections by Batwin+Robin Productions, Inc. – which include the increasing number of names of the no longer silent plague – AIDS. A list that eventually bleeds onto the walls of the theatre – ever growing.
“The Normal Heart” is a testament to the prescience of Mr. Kramer. His desire for gays to be able to love whomever they want, to be free, to be safe, to not be afraid and to be able to marry. He knew. He fought. He is now totally vindicated. And he is still fighting.
It is one of the finest productions on Broadway and attention must be paid. See it.
www.thenormalheartbroadway.com Limited run through July 10th. Photo: Joan Marcus
REMEMBER – May 15th – AIDS WALK
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