In 1985, Larry Kramers The Normal Heartchallenged Americano, humanityto save the lives of his friendsgay men dying of a nameless disease. In 2011, at least 25 million people, many strangers to Kramer, have died. Now, in the plays Broadway debut, Kramers alter ego, activist Ned Weeks (Joe Mantello), seems like a tragic Cassandra as he lambastes institutions like the New York Times and the U.S government for their inaction. Were not yelling loud enough! he cries.
Lee Pace, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, and Patrick Breen revisit 1985.
The Normal Heart
By Larry Kramer
252 West 45th Street
212-239-6200, the normalheartbroadway.com
We know Kramer wasnt wrong about AIDS, but also that yelling cant be ones only strategy, in art or politics. Kramer wasnt prioritizing art then, and still isnthe stood outside the preview distributing leaflets declaring that everything in The Normal Heart happened. But the passing years have made it easier to admire his confrontational style, brush off the plays contempt for sexual pleasure, and credit Kramer with the invention of, among others, Tony Kushner.
The quasi-operatic monologues of the second act feel less manipulative than they must have in 1985, and truly tragic given the consequences of all that inaction. These roles are intensely attacked by the excellent cast, especially Mantello and Ellen Barkin, who plays Dr. Emma Brookner, an early AIDS doctor, whose spectacular meltdown captures the frustration and terror of those times.