l-r Jeff Miller and Jonathan Wilson (Photo credit: John Karastamatis)
“…it’s not a civil right issue, it’s a contagion issue.”
by Beat Rice
The Normal Heart is one powerful play. The semi-autobiographical play takes place in New York when a strange virus without a name begins to take lives in the Gay community. The play premiered in 1985, essentially the time in which the story takes place. It is disturbingly surreal to watch this in the year 2011 and know how much of an epidemic it has become, still with no cure, and how, as one of the characters says in the piece, “…it’s not a civil right issue, it’s a contagion issue.” The play touches on the frustrations of politics, relationships, and wanting and needing to be heard.
The stakes are high from the very beginning and only escalate as the epidemic does.
The Normal Heart is very text-heavy, but necessarily so. Speeches are fiery and dialogue is sharp, and the delivery from the actors does it justice. The story is deep but moves quickly. Playwright Larry Kramer’s writing is compelling. He gives us the information we need to know in order to feel for the characters. The stakes are high from the very beginning and only escalate as the epidemic does. Kramer gives the actors a great deal to work with, but it is almost like a gift. Ryan Kelly, who plays Mickey Marcus will break your heart, as well as Mark Crawford who plays Bruce Niles. Jonathan Wilson plays Ned Weeks; the man at the centre of the story is full of passion and is a fighter from the start. Director Joel Greenberg has done an excellent job with building tension. Listen out for sniffles from the audience during the last moments onstage.
The production design as a whole was fairly simple. The stage is set in the round allowing us to feel very involved with the action. However, it was frustrating at times when faces were not seen and voices were hard to hear. The sound transitions from scene to scene mostly consisted of 80’s disco beats, which worked well for the first act but didn’t seem appropriate for the darker, more emotionally wrenching second act; nevertheless the transitions were smooth and energetic. Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design is great; she makes very creative use of the configuration of the round, lighting from all directions.