Presented by Zeitgeist Stage Company
By Larry Kramer
Directed by David J. Miller
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger Warnings: Rape, Proud Homosexuality, Truth
(Boston) Britney Spears thinks that gay people are “adorable and hilarious.” Her quote is terrifying because it is indicative of the thoughts and feelings of the majority of US citizens. For most of the world, only straight people are real™ people. Gay people are fun and quirky but we aren’t real™ people deserving of equal rights and a voice, says society. The LGBTQ get to be characters, sidekicks, and sassy friends who are defined solely by the people with whom we rub nethers (and other fun parts). Spears and people like her are stereotyping an entire community of human beings because it hasn’t occurred to them that we’re also human. Our history, culture and politics are just as rich as the hetero-normative precedent.
Until recently, we haven’t been taken seriously as a legitimate minority (FYI: Women still aren’t considered real people. Don’t believe me? Ask the Steubenville rape victims or the Roast Busters. But I wildly digress.). Adults of a certain age can remember how horrendous Ronald Reagan was to the LGBT community during his term as President. That man hated us. He didn’t even respond to the AIDS crisis publically until 1987 and it was identified as an epidemic by the CDC in 1981. The Gipper, his administration and everyone else who toed the party line let thousands of people (gay, straight and neither) die from AIDS/HIV complications.
The Normal Heart is a somber three hours long. It covers the gay male experience during the AIDS crisis at a time when men were still enjoying the aftershocks of the sexual revolution and the Stonewall riots. It addresses how one social circle reacts to frequent and tragic death amid the search for romantic love. It is also expresses a philosophical response to the quiet acceptance of death exhibited by the US when it wasn’t socially appropriate to prevent it. The run time is justifiable considering just how much it has to teach its audience.
Aside from Victor Shopov’s inclination to act as if he were being buffeted by a stiff wind whenever his character wants to drive home a point, the entire cast gives an excellent performance. They find moments to be platonically affectionate with each other. Given the nature of the play, each touch is an act of bravery. The script allows for several comedic moments and the cast does their damndest to pretend that no one is going to tragically die by the end of the show. They are so damn sincere that the audience wants to believe them. These boys are a brilliant ensemble. If they weren’t family* before the show; you can bet your sweet bippy that they are now.
Special recognition goes to Maureen Adduci who played Dr. Emma Brookner. Brookner contracted Polio as a child and is confined to a wheelchair for the duration of the show. Adduci endows Brookner with the dignity deserving of a doctor. Brookner is a powerhouse that refuses to be ignored at a time when the disabled aren’t legally protected. Thank you, for presenting the disabled community with respect!
For obvious reasons, none of the political speak in the show is kind to the Reagan administration. Those devoted to The Gipper may decide to stay away from this production. In fact, Republicans or the Republican leaning may want to skip this show. Politics are discussed often and at a loud volume. Conservatives are not shown in a kind light. Some of the Reagan speak alludes to a comparison to Hitler. Deaths from AIDS are compared to the deaths of the Jews during the Holocaust. Our hero, Ned Weeks (Victor Shopov), cautions that internment camps could be opened as quarantines to contain the virus. The camps would be an excuse to gather homosexuals and wait for them to die just as Hitler’s administration did.
The Normal Heart is not an easy show to sit through – I cried like a baby through a good 35% of it. This isn’t a play that will brighten your day or give you hope. It is intended to reveal the truth and the truth is that when given the opportunity society will attempt to crush minorities dead for the crime of being different. History affirms this statement. One should leave this performance impressed by the cast and crew. One should expect to feel deeply sorry for the terrors that the US Govt. has forced the LGBTQ community to suffer. This production is thought provoking; it is depressing; it is extremely necessary for all to experience. We must learn from our history so we can never repeat it.
*Darling, the LGBTQ get to choose our family. We don’t get equal rights but we do get this. Lucky us!