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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why We Must See "Normal Heart"

Normal_heartBy David Mixner -

Many people can recite statistics about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Some even still know someone who has died from the disease. Our organizations fighting to find a cure and a vaccine have become more institutionalized and less of a social movement. Most of the people who would have been storytellers about the dark, dark 1980's have died. Those that survived often just want to put the horror behind them. Shock often appears across a young person's face when you start sharing our reality of that decade.
That is why "The Normal Heart" is so important. This not only mentions the names of the dead but tells the story of the times. The New York Times gave this production a rave review ("Raw Anguish of the Plague Years") and I want to share excerpts of it with you. Bravo to Larry Kramer for being so persistent over all these years to finally have this available for the next generations. Here are the excerpts from Ben Brantley's review:

Political outrage may be what shaped this drama, inspired (very directly) by Mr. Kramer’s early days as an AIDS activist. But what emerges so stirringly from this production — which follows the shaky emergence of a political movement among gay New Yorkers to deal with AIDS — is its empathy with people lost in a war in which they have no rules, no map, no weapons. Everyone’s flailing, everyone behaves badly, and everyone is, if not likable, at least understandable. There is no rationing of compassion here, even for the enemy.
Don’t let me deceive you into thinking that “Heart” has mellowed in the intervening years. As directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe — and performed by a top-notch cast that includes Joe Mantello, Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey — the play remains a bruiser. This is a production, after all, in which the showstoppers are diatribes. (One delivered by Ms. Barkin, playing an endlessly frustrated doctor, receives the kind of sustained applause usually reserved for acrobatic tap dancers.) "

Ben Brantley continues in the review:

Before the play ends, Ned will have shed many of his closest friends and his allies in the organization he has helped to found (which bears a close resemblance to Gay Men’s Health Crisis). Yet when those friends turn on Ned, we don’t turn on them. That’s because they are each drawn with such clarity and detail that we understand exactly why they behave as they do.
Patrick Breen, Lee Pace and Jim Parsons (of “The Big Bang Theory”) are all terrific as very different types of gay men who band together and chafe and clash and ultimately explode. (Each has at least one outburst that leaves you as shaken as they are.) And Mark Harelik is superb as Ned’s brother, Ben, a stiff-backed lawyer who loves and is embarrassed by his younger sibling. There’s a lot of complicated, illuminating chemistry in this relationship too.
Not that we are ever allowed to forget that there is something bigger going on than the usual dramatic soap operas of fractured families and love affairs. The walls of David Rockwell’s set — a homage to the original white box set at the Public — are carved with headlines and talismanic words that chart the rapid progress of a disease and the slow official response to it. The names of those killed by AIDS are also projected on those walls, in ever-increasing numbers.
More than any naturalistic version, this design summons the very climate of fear and uncertainty in which the characters in “The Normal Heart” lived and breathed and, too often, died. What makes this production so deeply affecting, and so much more than a warning cry from another time, is our awareness of how that element shapes and warps the people who inhabit it: how it brings them together and tears them apart and makes them noble and craven and hysterical and heroic, and, above all, so very frightened, confused and, yes, hopping mad."

for more from David visit Live from Hell's Kitchen.

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