The Normal Heart: The Story of AIDS for a New Generation
Friday, July 01, 2011
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