In the 1980’s a life in the theater meant death in the theater…in all the arts, the sciences, everywhere. Imagine how many Einsteins, how many Picassos, how many Gandhis, were lost to AIDS. Zeitgeist Stage’s revival of Larry Kramer’s THE NORMAL HEART (running through Nov.23rd) recounts the history of a nation’s criminal neglect and it pays homage to the extraordinary struggle of the men and women who stepped up to help.
For younger generations who don’t regard the disease as a death sentence anymore (although it still is), the name, Larry Kramer, may not be so familiar. For those of us who lived through the plague, Kramer became the warrior who would not accept defeat. He would not tolerate indifference. He stood up to Mayor Koch, even to President Reagan. He held leaders to account. He rallied activists throughout the U.S. and he refused to go away. He was angry then and he’s still angry. He’ll die angry because of the waste.
How often can you see an exceptional play about a time in history written by an actual participant? THE NORMAL HEART is that play. Kramer details the sorrows and the triumphs of a group of friends who never intended to become activists… and who never could have imagined the death and destruction visited on them.
Director David Miller has a spirited troupe of actors to play out the joy, affection, betrayal and tragedy of a time not very long ago, in New York City. Victor Shopov, although not quite as acerbic as Kramer in real life, manages to show his character’s heart as well as his colossal drive. (He reminded me of Kramer from the get-go). Mikey DiLoreto, too, plumbs the depths of his soul for a searing scene brought on by “bereavement overload.”
Kramer’s play has lovely, touching scenes (like Peter Brown’s turnaround when Joey C. Pelletier, as his brother’s sweet lover, pays him a visit) as well as instances of palpable cruelty (when Mario DaRosa Jr. as Ned’s comrade in arms delivers the news that he’s no longer welcome in the very organization they founded). Perhaps the most difficult role is Maureen Adduci’s as the no nonsense Dr. Krim (Dr. Brookner in the play). Adduci breaks the veneer for one fleeting moment to show the pain never visible in any of her public appeals.
Every member of the ensemble contributes solid work: from Kyle Cherry’s eager office go-fer to David Lutheran’s unyielding bureaucrat to Mike Meadors’ cheery, charming Southern worker bee. Miller adds to the impact of the script with projections of actual photos which transport you (with your heart in your stomach) right back then. Michael Flowers’ black and white images are overlaid with names, only a few at first…then paragraphs of names which become an avalanche of names. Names which must never be forgotten.