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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 04
DO NOT MISS THIS PRODUCTION of The Normal Heart!
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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DO NOT MISS THIS PRODUCTION of The Normal Heart!

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE NORMAL HEART
STRAWBERRY THEATRE WORKSHOP
ERICKSON THEATRE OFF BROADWAY
Through February 15


AIDS and HIV are still here! The war against this pernicious and awful virus continues with no cure in sight! Do you realize that if you are not sick? It seems way too easy to forget how devastating it was in 1981, 1982, 1983, when hundreds and then thousands of bright, talented, artistic, and vibrant young men and women began dying because no one wanted to be seen helping Gay human beings.

A way to remind yourself of just how difficult those years were, as Gay men began dying from mysterious diseases that were, prior to that, almost completely unheard of, and no one knew why or how to keep from getting sick themselves, is to attend a bravura theatrical production by Strawberry Theatre Workshop (www.strawshop.org) at the Erickson Theatre. The author, Larry Kramer, wrote the play as a polemic and a protest in 1985 with detailed information on just how ignored and abused the Gay community felt.

Specifically, in the play, he details a Tylenol scare that happened in the same years. In 1982, someone put cyanide in some Tylenol capsules and 7 random people died taking them. The National Institute of Health spent millions of dollars on that investigation and our over-the-counter medications were forever repackaged into tamper-proof packaging. But hundreds of Gay men began dying and the governmental response was non-existent! Kramer was a writer and had already tried to write about the crisis. But his voice was small and his frustration was enormous.

Performed originally at The Public Theater in New York City, the play made an impact on New Yorkers. It was a shout of outrage. The play is historic in its content and context, but still has the power to devastate an audience (BRING TISSUES) and educate about what happened. It serves as a wakeup call to all of us to continue to pressure our government to fund cure research and organizations like the Lifelong AIDS Alliance.

People today can 'manage' their illnesses, but we are learning, as they age and must continue to use these expensive and invasive medical treatments for their entire lives, that the drugs themselves are toxic and deteriorating. Soon, we may enter a new phase where older HIV/AIDS patients begin to need intensive medical care due to the medication regimen, itself.

The play details the conflicts in the Gay community of the time. After Stonewall, many Gay people had decided that the way to be accepted and live openly was to celebrate sex and sexuality. Those in California, probably as a kind of off-shoot of the Hippie era, were most often photographed in the chaps and leather look, but it was that kind of behavior that turned off a lot of mainstream America. Still, people who had had to fear everything about being different reveled in the openness and the ability to have multiple sexual partners.

The Normal Heart shows how difficult it was to ask Gay men to stop having sex in order not to die. It took several years to figure out if sex was a transmitting mechanism, and then more time to figure out if there was a way to protect yourself from transmission while being sexually active. It also details how difficult it was for closeted business people to both join Gay organizations and also worry about getting fired from their jobs.

The cast is terrific, from the yeoman effort of Greg Lyle-Newton to demonstrate both Ned Weeks' (Larry Kramer's character name for essentially himself) anger, neediness, and activism, to the ensemble support of other Gay characters (Peter Crook as a closeted businessman whose fear is palpable, even as he loses partners, Stephen Black as a New York City health department employee whose activism gets him close to being fired, Andrew Russell as a reporter with enough backbone to be attracted to Ned even as Ned almost sabotages any hope of love), a heartbreaking relationship with Ned's straight brother (Rob Burgess), and an extra-special performance from Amy Thone as a doctor on the spot to accidentally become a foremost expert on the disease just by proximity.

Director Sheila Daniels creates seamless transitions from a mostly bare stage, and low-key intonations of deaths-by-month during scene changes, as dictated in the script. With emotional excess a constant threat, she helps the actors maintain the tension needed so that the evening has layers of emotions, not just shouting. This production demonstrates her great directing abilities.

There is much more to say about the production, but it has to be summed up as DO NOT MISS THIS PRODUCTION! Do anything and everything you can, bring as many people as you can, hurry up or you'll be shut out by sold out shows. Get on it NOW!

For more information, go to www.strawshop.org or normalheart.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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DO NOT MISS THIS PRODUCTION of The Normal Heart!
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