Author Archive for: ‘KedarAdour’
THE NORMAL HEART : Drama by Larry Kramer. Directed by George C. Wolfe. American Conservatory Theater (ACT), 415 Geary St., San Francisco. (415) 749-2228 or www.act-sf.org. September 13–October 7, 2012
A gut wrenching THE NORMAL HEART at ACT
As a practicing medical doctor in the 1980s this reviewer shared the frustration of the character Dr. Emma Brookner (Jordan Baker) who bookends the brilliant production of The Normal Heart gracing ACT’s Broadway transplant of Larry Kramer’s play. Whereas Kramer’s semi-autographical play is specific to New York City there was, unbeknownst to us in the medical profession, the “plague” that was devastating his gay friends was a world-wide problem that was to infect millions of people . . . gay and straight.
The Normal Heart that was first produced in 1985 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater centers around Ned Weeks, who is Kramer’s alter ego (Patrick Breen) and his circle of friends who were dying of this mysterious illness that became named as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) caused by the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Being given that diagnosis was a death sentence and deaths were frequently occurring in the Gay NYC population and became known as the “Gay Disease.”
Because of condemnation for gay people by political, religious and even the general population on the grounds that gays practiced abnormal sex, obtaining funds for research was almost impossible. In the play Ned is a Jewish writer who himself has lost friends and lovers undertakes a quest for the political community to declare an epidemic and spur research for the cause and treatment. Forward thinking Dr. Brookner suggests that the disease (virus) is sexually transmitted and the password amongst gays should be “abstinence.” That is not be.
Ned appeals to his loving wealthy straight-laced lawyer older brother Ben (Bruce Altman) for financial help without getting a commitment. Ned, who is abrasive in his speech, sets out to form a group to obtain funds for research. When they are unsuccessful they establish a group to help those with the disease to cope with their progressive deterioration. To Ned this is not enough when NYC Health Department worker Mickey Marcus (Michael Berresse)tells him that the deaths have jumped to 41 in one week Ned goes ballistic and that is to be his downfall when he is ejected from the group(s) that he has championed.
All this may sound didactic but be assured it is not. The characters become real in their time upon the stage, and as they die on and off the stage. You will become involved in each as distinct individuals. Bruce Niles (Nick Mennell) a former Green Beret and now as collar and tie investment banker refuses to come out of the closet for the simply reason he will be fired. Late in the second act when he tearfully recounts how the body of his former lover who died of complications of AIDS was mistreated there were tears in the eyes of the audience.
The gorgeous Matt McGrath, as New York Times staff writer and eventual lover of Ned, underplays his role to perfection. His transformation from a charming, humorous boy to a patient with a deteriorating body is so heart wrenching to make you hold your breath.
The production values created by the Broadway and Washington’s Arena Stage staffs are superb and have been transferred intact to ACT. The stage is framed with bare white walls etched with lines and quotations from Newspaper articles and can be considered a mausoleum for dead. The first written word is ‘Patient Zero” and ending with a moving projection of all those who followed in death. Director Wolfe keeps the cast balanced and tempers Breen’s depiction of Ned allowing him intermittent breathing room but rarely for more than a couple of minutes. He may overstep the directorial conceit of bringing the wheel chair bound Dr. Brookner to the stage apron and lecture us about the unfairness of it all, but Jordan Baker ejects so much sincerity into her lines that you must listen as you recognize the problems of today as those of the past.
Kedar Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldintermagazine.com
The cast of The Normal Heart—playing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, September 13–October 7, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.