When you first heard the word AIDS?
The Normal Heart was first produced back in 1985 when the country was just learning about the word, but the epidemic still had no name. Playwright Larry Kramer has gone on to become one of the leading activist for the LGBT community and that activism shown brightly in this semi-autobiographical story. I've never seen this play (though I did visit NYC in 1985 and saw another play dealing with the AIDS crisis called As Is and then moved to NYC two years later). The play centers on the AIDS epidemic as it took off during the early 80s. I was blown away by the fear that is captured in the play of what gay men were going through during that time. Seeing the play on Broadway for the first time in 2011 one can only think about how far we have come during the past decades and yet how far we still need to go. Not only in the fight against AIDS, but gay rights in general. The world was a different place in the 80s and this play clearly shows it.
I couldn't help but think back to the late 80s and early 90s when I was losing friends to this disease at a dizzying pace. It is great to know that people can now manage the disease with medication, but the fight is still not over. For the show, it was great to see Joe Mantello back ON stage since he has become one of Broadway's hottest directors since he appeared in Angels in America. Ellen Barkin (The Big Easy & Sea of Love to name a few movies) and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) both make their Broadway debuts and are wonderful in each of their roles. (As is the entire ensemble.) Yet my favorite is John Benjamin Hickey (a fellow Texan) whom I have loved each time I've seen him from Cabaret to Love! Valour! Compassion! and Showtime's The Big C. The man gives a marvelous master class in inhabiting a character on stage and going through a change in front of our eyes that took my breath away....literally. (This was one of those shows I could not speak when the lights went down due to the tears running down my face.) The show is deserving of the Tony nominations it received, especially for Mantello, Hickey & Barkin. It's a limited run through July, so if you get a chance - step back in time and learn a little of the history that has shaped a community.