Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Normal Heart

The life-story of Larry Kramer, AIDS activist, author and playwright, finally makes it to Broadway - a late, but welcome addition to the spring season.  Having had several off-Broadway runs, most recently in 2004 staring Raul Esparza, this incarnation puts a Tony award winning director, Joe Mantello, in the leading acting role.  Directed by Joel Grey (who's kinda busy with Anything Goes) and George C. Wolfe, the production takes on a brisk rhythm, maintains it's level of anger at or just below the boiling point, and serves to educate us all, once again, as to the political, social, and medical roots of this plague called AIDS.

Mantello shows off his superb acting chops as Ned Weeks, the central character of of this 1980's real-life drama, for which a Tony nomination is certainly due for his outstanding performance.  I took notice on several occasions that with both eyes firmly on the scene in front of him, a third, unseen eye in his brain was feeding him all sorts of instructions for little gestures, movements and pauses in dialogue that only a keen director would want to see an actor give.  The ensemble cast that supports him; Luke MacFarlane, Patrick Breen, Wayne Alan Wilcox, Ellen Barkin, Lee Pace, John Benjamin Hickey, Mark Harelick, Jim Parsons, and Richard Topol; is equally talented and in lock step with Mantello's energy, passion, emotion, and intensity.  A true ensemble cast at its best.

I recall seeing the 2004 production at the Public Theatre, but as with all shows that are re-staged and re-presented - this version in 2011 seemed to pack a bigger punch, emphasize the explosive emotional nature of the story and focus less on the back story and friendships and founding of GMHC.

The play is always performed, as far as I know, without scenery and this production was no exception.  The words and headlines in white-on-white on the back and side walls of the stage were effective in communicating unspoken dialogue and both the lack of audio (the performers were not mic'd) and the inclusion of audio at each scene change were both powerful and subtly effective tools which served to amplify the impact of the overall performance.

Mr. Kramer was, and still is, a complex and confrontational human being.  This is his story, his life's work and and it certainly deserves the fine production that Ms. Roth and her partners have given it.