The Pick: The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s poignant AIDS drama revived
Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart hit a lot of nerves when it premiered off Broadway in 1985. One of the first plays about the new and poorly understood HIV/AIDS epidemic, its fierce activist rhetoric polarized audiences, gay and straight—but everyone agreed on its indelible impact. Now, in a markedly different time, the play is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, first with a Tony Award–winning Broadway engagement earlier this year, and now in a moving new production at Buddies in Bad Times directed by Joel Greenberg.
Admittedly, the play is starting to show its age after 25 years. The proliferation of frank AIDS-related art from the past two decades makes some of Kramer’s dialogue seem a little stale. And the political pamphleteering lacks urgency now that HIV is no longer a certain death sentence nor the subject of the same degree of public shame and discrimination. The stakes that once gave The Normal Heart its political charge have been lowered.
But often overlooked is Kramer’s gripping narrative about relationships and marginalization. Jonathan Wilson is magnetic as the neurotic Ned Weeks, a failed novelist–turned activist who erupts into unbridled fury at the latent homophobia in the public’s reaction to the mystery virus. If Ned is the showiest role, his partner, Felix (played by Jeff Miller, an actor to keep your eye on), gives the show its heart. Miller’s warmth and patience balance out Wilson’s vitriolic rage; he’s funny, compassionate and, as needed, devastating. These compelling characters, along with the actors’ searing performances, are a reminder that Kramer’s play is much more than just a product of its time.
The details: To November 6. PWYC–$35. 12 Alexander St., 416-975-8555, buddiesinbadtimes.com.