Bob Goepfert Reviews "The Normal Heart" At Curtain Call Theatre
One of the more notable things about the production of a “The Normal Heart” presented at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham through April 30, is that it generates a span of emotions ranging from compassion to outrage.
The play, written by Gay activist Larry Kramer in 1985, generates outrage as you experience the Gay community being ignored as an unknown plague begins to take the lives of its members. It gets worse as it is revealed that it took thousands of lives before anyone in authority began to acknowledge a disease even existed.
The compassion comes as the play personalizes the stories of individuals who are helplessly dying in a world that marginalizes their existence.
Making it worse it this is a true story about the outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980s and the lead character is a standing in for the playwright.
The play revolves about Ned Weeks, one of the first people to realize a plague had infested the Gay community. Weeks is not a temperate or reasonable man. He frequently calls the government’s non-response to AIDS research Gay genocide, and drew comparisons to what was happening to Gays with the Holocaust.
The play suggests that because the Gay community was forced to live closeted lives, many never felt secure about their sexuality and questioned their right to love and be loved by another man. The alternative was a flamboyant, hedonistic lifestyle centering about casual sex.
Because Weeks is such a toxic, angry person, easily lost are his insights about how society dismisses minorities who seem different. He realizes that Gays would not find respect as long as they lived in the closet. He is an early advocate for Gay marriage, monogamy and even celibacy.
Kris Anderson is remarkable as he is able to show Weeks as an unforgiving zealot who cannot help but offend everyone. That is until Felix Turner enters his life. He permits himself to fall in love, and his scenes as a lover are awkward, tender and always sincere. Anderson offers a dynamic portrayal that’s able to display the abrasiveness of Weeks, while also finding the man’s dedication to a cause. It’s a great portrait of a very complicated man.
Indeed, the acting by each member of the 10-person cast is excellent. It’s a cast of all-stars, but standing out are Nick Bosanko as the comical Tommy, Ed McMullen as Ben Weeks, a man struggling to support his brother, and Michael Lake as Bruce, a successful businessman who has much to lose If exposed as gay.
However, equal to Anderson’s work is Chris Foster’s portrayal of Felix. He’s heartbreaking when he contracts the disease and evolves from a self-assured fashion writer for the New York Times to a scared man who is desperate for answers. One of the play’s rare subtle moments is when his sexual preference denies him a death with dignity. Sadly, the production denies him the same thing. Because his death scene is staged in an awkward, rushed manner it negates the emotion of the moment.
“The Normal Heart” is about AIDS, but it is also about any issue concerning a marginalized group of people. It is a story about one zealot, but truly is a play about people who see clearly the time in which they live. It is about public advocacy and how one very loud voice can be heard by a bureaucracy. It’s about life and, regrettably, about needless death.
“The Normal Heart” is not a perfectly constructed play. It has 16 scenes over two acts, most of which involve only two people, which fosters exposition. The second act is loaded with monologues which do little to move the story forward. However, the honesty and passion found in each scene is the reason the play should be seen.
“The Normal Heart”, though not a perfectly constructed play, but it is great theater. It continues at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham, Thursdays through Sundays until April 30. 518-877-7529.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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