The Normal Heart: The Story of AIDS for a New Generation

Feature

Friday, July 01, 2011

Luke Macfarlane, Jim Parsons, and Patrick Breen (left-to-right) work the switchboard for an activist group fighting the epidemic in The Normal Heart. Luke Macfarlane, Jim Parsons, and Patrick Breen (left-to-right) work the switchboard for an activist group fighting the epidemic in The Normal Heart. (Joan Marcus)

Six years before Tony Kushner grabbed the nation’s attention with his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America, Larry Kramer staged The Normal Heart, about the AIDS epidemic and its devastating impact on the gay community. The Normal Heart premiered at New York City’s Public Theater, Off Broadway, in 1985, and finally received its Broadway premiere this year, winning three Tony Awards. Of the two plays, it is more immediate and raw, and maybe angrier. Kramer’s career as a playwright took a back seat to his life as an activist; he cofounded Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the more radical group ACT UP.

The action centers on the character of a newspaper writer named Ned Weeks, a stand-in for Kramer, and his struggle to respond to the nascent epidemic. But for younger audiences, the AIDS crisis is a generation past, and the disease itself feels remote. Paul VanDeCarr spoke with young people for whom The Normal Heart is not just a tragedy, but a history lesson. Joel Grey, who co-directs the show, says audiences now are shocked by the indifference toward the epidemic in the early 1980s: “The young people are flabbergasted with the information that they hear in that show. … It’s just horrendous, and true.”

 

Slideshow: The Normal Heart on Broadway

Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart, AIDS, Joe Mantello, John Benjamin Hickey,
Joan Marcus

Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart dramatizes events that occurred during the 1980s AIDS epidemic. The character of Ned Weeks (Joe Mantello, left) is a stand-in for the playwright: a writer and an AIDS activist who falls in love with the closeted writer Felix Turner (Tony Award-winner John Benjamin Hickey, right).

Luke Macfarlane, Jim Parsons, Patrick Breen, The Lonely Heart, AIDS, Larry Kramer
Joan Marcus

Luke Macfarlane, Jim Parsons, and Patrick Breen (left-to-right) work the switchboard for an activist group fighting the epidemic. First staged in 1985 at the Public Theatre in New York City, The Normal Heart takes place in the early 1980s, just as the AIDS epidemic is starting to take hold, and kill an alarming number of gay men.

Lee Pace, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Patrick Breen, Larry Kramer, The Lonely Heart
Joan Marcus

Lee Pace, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, and Patrick Breen (left-to-right) are activists struggling to force the news media, the government, and the public at large to pay attention to the AIDS crisis in the gay community.

Greg Ramsey, The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer, Broadway
Paul VanDeCarr

Greg Ramsey passes out letters from playwright Larry Kramer after each performance. They let the audience know that “everything in The Normal Heart happened. These were and are real people who lived and spoke and died.”

Contributors:

Paul VanDeCarr

Comments [2]

Thanks, Elizabeth!

Jul. 01 2011 12:22 PM
Elizabeth from Pittsburgh, PA.

Fantastic piece. Very well done.

Jun. 30 2011 07:52 PM

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