BWW Reviews: THE NORMAL HEART at the Fountain Theatre Presents a Timeless Call to Action!

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Loosely autobiographical, THE NORMAL HEART covers the first years of the AIDS crisis, from 1981 to 1984. Those of us who lived through that time can share stories fueled by fear of a new and dreaded disease that no one understood or knew how to combat. All we did know was our gay male friends were contracting what appeared to be a form of cancer that was killing them almost exclusively in large numbers - and no one seemed to care or know what to do about it or how to not catch it or pass it on to your loved ones. In fact, the government seemed to want to ignore the problem and religious zealots preached that homosexuals were getting what they deserved via the wrath of God for their abhorrent behavior.

Fueled by love, anger, hope and pride, THE NORMAL HEART centers on a circle of friends struggling to understand and contain a mysterious disease ravaging New York's gay community. Simon Levy brilliantly directs the exclusive Los Angeles revival of Larry Kramer's groundbreaking drama, an emotionally-charged tale about public and private indifference at the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man's fight to awaken the world to its urgency.

Not seen in L.A. for over 16 years, THE NORMAL HEART remains one of the theater's most powerful evenings ever. It was so ahead of its time that many of the core issues it addresses - including gay marriage, a broken healthcare system and, of course, AIDS - are just as relevant today as they were when it first premiered nearly 30 years ago. Now is the time to inspire the American people to stand up and be heard on issues that affect all of us and I hope when you walk out of the theater, you will feel as I did that your voice can matter and now is the time to champion whatever cause speaks to your heart and soul. "What's wonderful about this play is that it's a passionate reminder that we must always keep fighting for what we believe in, that we must never let injustice go unanswered," says Levy.

Tim Cummings stars as writer and activist Ned Weeks, whose polio-stricken and now wheelchair-bound doctor (Lisa Pelikan) tells him he must convince everyone he knows to stop having sex or they'll die. The play follows Ned and a core group of friends, Bill Brochtrup (NY Times writer and Ned's HIV-infected lover Felix), Matt Gottlieb (Ned's conservative brother Ben), Fred Koehler (Mickey), Stephen O'Mahoney (Closeted upper management executive Bruce), Ray Paolantonio (Southern Queen Tommy), Dan Shaked (Craig/Grady) and Jeff Witzke (David/Hiram) as they rail against a community that refuses to believe they are in danger, a bureaucracy that refuses to listen and a President who won't even utter the word AIDS. Dismissed by politicians, frustrated by doctors and fighting with each other, their differences could tear them apart - or change the world.

With each and every one of these formidable actors bringing such dynamic characters to the stage, you can't help but be pulled into their lives and care about what happens to them. There are lovely tender moments between Cummings and Botchtrup throughout the play, especially as they get to know each other during their first date, and ultimately the heartbreak they endure as their lives are torn apart by AIDS. I swear I will never be able to eat broccoli again after experiencing the rage fuelEd Battle Cummings has with the vegetable when Botchtrup refuses his attempt to feed him a much-needed healthy meal.

But the story is also filled with rage, displayed from the depth of his soul by Tim Cummings throughout the play as he tries to push for the New York Times to cover the epidemic and the Mayor of New York to fund research, and especially by Koehler during his lack-of-sleep rant when he realizes he has been manipulated by his employer and his friends. And in response, the compassion shown by Paolantonio for his friends as they come apart emotionally will melt your heart. And Pelikan's final explosive, anger-fueled, paper-throwing rage when the good doctor's research is not recognized or thought to be of any value will get your blood boiling and hopefully light a fire under all of us to take a stand for what we believe in and stand up for what we know is right.

Just a note about the simple and plain set design by Jeff McLaughlin you will see when you walk into the theater. Just wait and you will be amazed as it transforms via the spectacular lighting design by R. Christopher Stokes; sound design by Peter Bayne and video design by Adam Flemming. As the months flash by, so do the infection and death numbers, bringing the reality of the fight all the more real as time passes onstage. And at the end, there is the overwhelming scrolling of names of those who have lost their battle to the disease. And as you walk out, be sure to sign the Wall of Remembrance in the theater lobby where you can honor a lost loved one from your own life in the on-going battle to eradicate AIDS.

In 2000, THE NORMAL HEART was named "one of the 100 greatest plays of the 20th century" by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theater is alive in well in Los Angeles. Do not miss this production - and though it is very intense, take your teenagers who have no idea what the world was like when fear of an unknown epidemic nearly tore the world apart. After all, it is up to them to create a future where human beings really do care about what happens to each other and the world.

THE NORMAL HEART continues on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 p.m. and Sundays @ 2 p.m, through Nov. 3 (dark Thurs., Oct. 31). Tickets are $34 (reserved seating). On Thursdays and Fridays only, seniors over 65 and students with ID are $25. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.



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From This Author Shari Barrett