FLASH FRIDAY: THE NORMAL HEART - Reality To Broadway To HBO
Today we are turning our attention to one of the most revered and respected plays of the last century in honor of the highly anticipated world premiere of the HBO film adaptation of it this weekend, Larry Kramer's THE NORMAL HEART.
This Means War
The tagline of HBO's film version of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart is simple and direct: "To win a war, you have to start one." That, in essence, is the thesis of not only the inherent drama of the film itself and the Tony Award-winning play upon which it based, but also the modus operandi of the man who made it all happen in the first place, way back in 1985 - playwright and activist Larry Kramer. Taking on a topic even the sitting president, Ronald Reagan, refused to address at the time of its premiere, The Normal Heart valiantly, thoughtfully and vividly depicted a pitch black moment in American history where a disease cropped up and nobody knew what to do about it - for years. Yet, people kept dying and new people kept getting infected day by day, week by week, year by year - by the millions - and nothing was done. What to do about it? How to persevere as a people? How to not get infected? None of these answers were known then and a few of these questions remain unanswered now. But, Larry Kramer raised his voice - in a politically-pointed and loud, grandstanding manner, as was all-too-appropriate given the severity of the disease and the devastating effect that it was having on one particular group at the time: the gay community.
Originally referred to as GRID and labeled a "gay disease", AIDS emerged in the early 1980s in New York city as a virus seemingly predominantly affecting gay men. As a result of seeing so many of his friends, foes and fellow New Yorkers being taken ill and dying in such shockingly painful and graphic ways shortly after AIDS came to prominence, outspoken homosexual Larry Kramer made it his cause to find out what was happening and what could be done about it. From 1981 to 1984, Kramer made many major strides in raising awareness for the disease while also directly addressing the political figures in positions of power who could have done something about it but chose not to - NYC mayor Ed Koch and the president himself among them. Although his participation in the AIDS advocacy group Gay Men's Heath Crisis that he himself co-founded was put in jeopardy due to his histrionic displays of a call to order, the social siren he sounded stirred up a veritable call to arms for the gay community to band together to fight the disease with everything they had. And, soon, they did.
When Kramer's The Normal Heart premiered in 1985 at the Public Theater under the direction of Michael Lindsay-Hogg, it was painfully prescient and startlingly on the nose in its accurate and studied depiction of the then-current lives of a group of gay men and the polio-stricken doctor who helped them, while all the while remaining an emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking theatre piece, as well. But, what The Normal Heart really was then and is now is political theatre. As far from agitprop as possible, The Normal Heart put the plight of millions right in front of the faces of hundreds every single night of its nearly 300-performance run and the published version of the play carried the message to the far recesses of the globe even further still. But, as we know now with AIDS still an untreatable worldwide epidemic, the work was far from over - for Kramer and all of us in the human race.
In 1992, Kramer penned a follow-up to The Normal Heart titled THE DESTINY OF ME, which further fleshed out the character of Ned Weeks and delved into his childhood and continued to explore the autobiographical nature of the drama as introduced in the first play, this time addressing Kramer's own dealings with being an HIV positive gay man at the end of the 20th century. With recent news of Glee mastermind and HBO's The Normal Heart director Ryan Murphy currently crafting a screenplay of the sequel along with Kramer, intended for the network in the coming years, we can hope that this weekend's premiere of the soul-stirring, heart-breaking and mind-expanding film version of The Normal Heart will be only the beginning of Kramer fulfilling his true destiny and bringing the message of his work and life to a whole new generation in the process.
Although the play has subsequently been revived around the world in the intervening years since 1985 - a well-regarded 2004 revival starring Raul Esparza as well as a highly-praised and multi-award-winning 2011 Broadway premiere production among them; not to mention a UK edition, many more international productions and an all-star reading hosted by onetime rights holder and potential director Barbra Streisand - the HBO film of The Normal Heart is the ideal representation of the play onscreen and a unflinchingly, painstakingly accurate and well-considered treatment of not only the drama of the play that Larry Kramer wrote, but the ever-beating heart of the playwright and activist behind it. A battle cry - with all the well-earned tears to go with it.
So, now, let's look at some of the most applicable and apt clips relating to The Normal Heart onstage and onscreen from its rich 30-year history as we anticipate the premiere of HBO's film version this weekend.
First up, view the trailer for HBO's film of THE NORMAL HEART.
Next, go behind the scenes of HBO's THE NORMAL HEART.
Now, revisit some of the historical events that inspired THE NORMAL HEART.
Meet the stars of HBO's The Normal Heart at the red carpet premiere earlier this month.
After that, take in Barbra Streisand's introduction to the all-star reading of The Normal Heart in 1993.
View a memorable scene from the 2011 Broadway revival of The Normal Heart directed by George C. Wolfe and Joel Grey.
Check out the promotional trailer for the 2011 Broadway production of THE NORMAL HEART.
See John Benjamin Hickey's Tony Award acceptance speech for THE NORMAL HEART.
Next, take a look at Ellen Barkin's The Normal Heart Tony Award acceptance speech.
Julia Roberts talks The Normal Heart on THE ELLEN SHOW.
Larry Kramer discusses the journey of The Normal Heart from stage to screen.
Director Ryan Murphy elaborates on The Normal Heart in this red carpet interview.
Lastly, Larry Kramer participates in an extended discussion about The Normal Heart on World AIDS Day in 2011.
Discussing the movie adaptation and how he addressed the most horrific elements of the disease and how it ravaged those whom it affected, Murphy - the man behind AMERICAN HORROR STORY, no less - sagely opined (here), "I think it looks like a horror movie in some ways. I wanted it to be very graphic from a medical aspect... I think many young people today don't know that it was really so horrific." Bringing the message to a new generation while stirring up the memories of those who lived through such a dark time in American history is one of the features that makes HBO's film of The Normal Heart so incomparably important and pricelessly applicable to the here and now, today, while also paying tribute to all of those lost along the way in the long battle in raising AIDS awareness... and all of those who fought so passionately and selflessly for the cause - which, as we now know, was not unlike the rough road journeyed by The Normal Heart itself on the way from the page to the stage to the screen. All are causes worth fighting for - and how.