BWW Interview: Director-Actor Bart Guingona Talks THE NORMAL HEART

Manila, Philippines--The restaging of THE NORMAL HEART, produced by Actor's Actors Inc./The Necessary Theatre, closes today at Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati City. recently sat down with Bart Guingona, the play's director and one of its lead actors who plays Ned Weeks, an activist in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The character of Weeks actually acts as the alter ego of Larry Kramer, the play's author.

Guingona's Ned Weeks

In last year's TV film adaptation of THE NORMAL HEART, directed by Ryan Murphy, American actor Mark Ruffalo played the role of Weeks.

About his version of Weeks, Guingona said, "We have very different temperaments. Plus we are working in different mediums. I've been told I'm more volatile and abrasive while he is a more vulnerable, more humane Ned Weeks."

He added that as Weeks, "it entails special challenges."

"I found particularly difficult about playing Ned Weeks was having to surface the very character traits I hate in myself--verbosity, pedantry, opinionated-ness. I pity all the people who have to deal with me offstage. I must be insufferable."

Same Cast Members

According to Guingona, "Yes, we have retained the original cast. You know what they say: 'If it ain't broke...'" The cast of this production of THE NORMAL HEART includes Topper Fabregas as Felix Turner, TJ Trinidad as Bruce Niles, Red Concepcion as Tommy Boatwright, Roselyn Perez as Dr. Emma Brookner, Nor Domingo as Mickey Marcus, Richard Cunanan as Ben Weeks, and Jef Flores as Hiram Keebler.

Red Concepcion plays the "Southern Bitch" and the hospital administrator who became part of the early HIV/AIDS movement. Guingona described Concepcion as: "He's extremely talented. I needed someone with both comic timing as well as 'heart,' and this man has both in spades. He brings levity and sympathy to what otherwise might be heavy-going proceedings."

Guingona mentioned that his cast members were largely handpicked. He knew who and what he wanted and he went really after them.

His requirement for his cast is to: "Research, research, research. We were portraying the '80s, an era of different sensibilities, ways of thought, not to mention fashion sense and sexual mores. More than that though, we had to research about what was happening in our own country. We had to understand the workings of the health care system of our own country in order for our approach to the play to be a more meaningful one."

What this Play Strives to Achieve?

With the many plays that are gay-themed, Guingona pointed out that THE NORMAL HEART is about politics--the politics of health care, as well as about activism.

He specifically mentioned that, "Ultimately, it can even be viewed as much a love story as a war story. It's very different from all other plays I've come across.

"Ned's temper and passion get the best of him so much that he nearly alienates everyone around him; his love story with Felix [Turner] is the heart of the play."

As someone who plays the gay founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group, who prefers loud public confrontations to the calmer, more private strategies favored by his associates, friends and closeted lover, Felix, Guingona has this to say about how gay men and gay people in general are accepted nowadays: "This is a wonderful moment in the world's history.

"Gay people and lifestyles are on the cusp of worldwide mainstream acceptance; thanks to the landmark SCOTUS decision."

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From This Author Jude Cartalaba

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