By Larry Kramer
Directed by Nick Bowling
Produced by TimeLine Theatre
At Stage 773, Chicago
“A very strange thing has happened in the post-AIDS generation.
I don’t know what to call them; it’s not really post-AIDS,
but let’s call them the healthier, younger ones. They don’t want to know.
They don’t want to know the old people; they don’t want to know
the history; they don’t want to acknowledge
that the people who died were even part of their history. I talk about this a lot.
How can you dare to ignore everything that happened? These people died so
that you could live. Those drugs are out there because people died for them.
[It’s] shocking what’s going on now in the gay population. I have lost a great
Riveting and emotionally powerful look at the start of the AIDS plague
TimeLine Theatre presents Larry Kramer’s 1985 drama, The Normal Heart, that was both a call to action and a vivid personalized look at the devastating effects of an unknown plague surfaced mostly in the gay community in the 1980’s. We meet gay men dying quickly from a plague that seems to be only affecting them. A dedicated and outspoken doctor, Dr. Emma Brookner (Mary Beth Fisher in a riveting performance) pleads with influential gay men to get the word out to abstain from having sex until scientists find the cause of the plague that causes the immune system in an infected body to shut down. Ned Weeks (David Cromer), playwright Larry Kramer’s alter ego) is the abrasive, confrontational, combative writer turned activist who leads the fight to awaken the world to the crisis. He battles an deferential local and federal government as well as a gay community who isn’t about to change their sexual habits.
Along the way, Ned is a self-loathing gay man who doesn’t believe that he is either lovable nor capable of loving another until he meets Flex Turner (Patrick Andrews), a writer not intimated by the overpowering Ned. As Felix and Ned’s romance blossom during the struggle Ned has as he helps form an organization to make the world aware of the plague. The Normal heart is both a love story and a epic drama of pioneers who did the right thing about a life threatening event.
The battle to fight in deference by government and the fear of being “outed” by closed gay men as well as debating confrontational tactics versus slow ‘within’ the system tactics troubled the activist committee that Ned and others formed to deal with the crisis. As the deaths mount in NYC as well as across the nation (and the world) Ned fights to be heard often battling with his own committee as well as the press and New York city Hall and Mayor Koch.We see the effects on the committee members and Ned and Felix as one comes down with the disease. We also witness the on-going love/hate relationship between Ned and his older straight lawyer brother Ben Weeks (Marc Grapey).
We see how fears from within the gay community and the fear by government and later the public as to the nature of this plague plays out as the numbers of deaths raises. This searing drama is filled with the passionate activism deftly portrayed by David Cromer as the combative Ned Weeks. Cromer gives a fabulous complex and nuances turn to compliment his in-your-face passion. Mary Beth Fisher’s explosive monologue toward the government funding committee’s lukewarm stance on funding AIDS research is exploratory powerful. Her eyes scream her passion. I was moved by the heartfelt performance by Patrick Andrews as the dying Felix. Andrews show the depth of his talent here. The entire cast was respectful and fully engaged in the production. Joel Gross as Bruce Niles, the committee president and Stephen Rader as the frighten Mickey Marcus contributed yeoman work. Nick Bowling’s production builds power effectively and with the video projections (by Michael Stanfill), The Normal Heart presents as a major theatrical piece and a cautionary tale of the devastating effects of public and government in deference to a crisis.
Most of us know someone who died of AIDS (me included) and I hope this production gets us once again to realize that AIDS is still a major threat and that we can and must help defeat this scourge. The TimeLine production is wonderful theatre with a passionate and heartwarming drama that will reach into your psyche as only live theatre can. Don’t miss this terrific production.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 3, 2013
For more info checkout The Normal Heart page at theatreinchicago.com
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $37 – $47 – $50, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through December 29, 2013