BWW Reviews: THE NORMAL HEART
THE NORMAL HEART at Theatre Charlotte, March 20-April 4. Winner of a 2011 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. Tickets available at CarolinaTix.org, or at Theatre Charlotte Box Office, 501 Queens Road, Charlotte.
I remember reading the first news article on a mysterious disease plaguing gay men suggesting that poppers, used in gay clubs, caused the suppression of the immune system. After penicillin, it was unthinkable that sex could kill. As HIV multiplied exponentially, I remember the pallor that swept over Fire Island and the freedom of sex diminished in haunts like Plato's Retreat in L.A. THE NORMAL HEART, first performed at the Public Theater in New York, thirty years ago, jars memories and is a play you should see.
In the first scene of THE NORMAL HEART, the acting was emotionally disconnected and intimated. I thought that I was going to be in for an uncomfortable ride. And then I was taken with Dr. Emma Brookner, a polio survivor, played by Cynthia Farbman Harris. The actor understood a doctor's clinical examination and I believed what I was watching. THE NORMAL HEART continued to get better and drew the audience in, as it unfolded.
THE NORMAL HEART, written by Larry Kramer, is a play based on his life. He co-founded the Gay Man's Health Crisis (GMHC) in New York. Kramer contends that President Reagan and New York's Mayor Koch, for political reasons, dropped the ball, which caused the pandemic spread of AIDS. He was correct. The script at times pontificates and would be better served with half the exposition and more subtlety through action.
The projected news articles and exteriors designed by Chris Timmons, sets the minimalist stage beautifully for this story of fear, anger, love and frustration. The actors engage in a reality of emotions. Ned Weeks, played with honest fervor by Tommy Foster, is very combative, obstinate, but passionately committed to getting the word out about this disease. This actor's strength was his commitment and understanding of character. Ben Weeks, Ned's brother, was played by Frank Dominquez. He was three dimensional in his realistic portrayal of a New York attorney worrying about his $2M house and his inner discontent for having a homosexual brother. Felix Turner, Ned's lover, a good-looking closeted gay, played by Brandon James, has to come to terms with the reality of AIDS. There is a poignancy and raw truth when Ned brings food for Felix, who is too sick to eat. He and Ned both lash out. We see their frustration, their deep love for eachother and their despair. I enjoyed Jonathan Ewart's portrayal of Tommy Boatwright, who is described as "the bitch from the south." Ewart brought a humorous, light and realistic humanity to his portrayal of the middleman who smoothes things over when Ned, the organization's founder and Bruce Niles, the organization's ineffectual president, played by Paul Riley, butt heads. This ensemble cast became a well-oiled machine of powerful overlaid emotions when Mickey Marcus, played by Chris Chandler, is contemplating suicide and Tommy agrees to take him wherever he wants to go. There could have been more subtlety when Dr. Brookner entertains Ned in her apartment. It would have contrasted her later impassioned, well-executed plea in front of the federal funding board.
When Ned is thrown off the board he organized, he responds with a roll call of homosexuals who have made our world sublime. We will never know what our world might have held, what it might have been, had a generation of men not lost their lives to AIDS. At the end of this play their names are projected.
Many of us have lost someone to AIDS. Nearly 78 million people have contracted HIV and close to 39 million have died of AIDS-related causes. Director, Dennis Delamar has brought THE NORMAL HEART to life again. THE NORMAL HEART is a story that still needs to be told.
1 amFAR, The foundation for AIDS Research 2015 http://www.amfar.org/worldwide-aids-stats/