Even today, decades after the first onset of AIDS in America, in the 1980's, media just doesn't quite know what to do, or grapple with the subject matter on stage or screen. For this very reason, movies like "Dallas Buyers' Club," garnering Oscar consideration; and Timeline Theatre Company's revival of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart,"are welcome productions, bringing needed recognition, exposure, awareness, enlightenment, and entertainment about an ever sensitive and timely topic. The play, now in its run at Stage 773, and directed by Nick Bowling, is a chronicle of a proud piece of history, an era frought with denial, suffering, yet staunch activism, by the likes of lead character Ned Weeks, brilliantly portrayed (at the performance I attended) by Stephen Rader, understudy to David Cromer. He is a journalist/activist, angrily trying to trump a disease of 'outcasts.' Much like India's caste system, or the Salem Witch trials, an entire group in society, specifically gay men with AIDS, were ostracized, ignored, and almost invisible.
The Normal Heart, (soon to be an HBO film), addresses this time period, with each poignant and powerful scene conveying man's/woman's inalienable right to love and marry whomever one chooses; the ultimate right to happiness. Perhaps the most powerful, emotion-laden scene of the entire play is the final one, in which Felix (Patrick Andrews), at his death bed in the hospital, finally exchanges wedding vows with his long time lover Ned Weeks, in the presence of Dr. Emma Brookner (Mary Beth Fisher) and Ned's brother, Ben Weeks (Marc Grapey).
The historical backdrop of the play, the 80's, is magnificently presented by a multimedia slideshow of significant news events, and iconic music of the time. In that era, AIDS was a 'diagnosis of death.' Although times have certainly changed, the debate about gay rights and marriage equality continues and evolves. The whole point of the play, even the title alone, "The Normal Heart"....imparts the message - that everyone on this planet is a human being, worthy of dignity, respect, love, civil and equal rights - gay or straight.
On World AIDS day, this past Sunday, this play was the ideal choice - a universal, timeless story, with a pointed message to affect change.
Through December 29th
Stage 773 - 1225 Belmont Ave
timelinetheatre.com (773) 327-5252