The Normal Heart (YGtCTO #42)

Play written by Larry Kramer

I write this in the days following the shooting in Orlando, knowing that my editor has it scheduled to be published some time in August. Who am I kidding? I am the editor. Maybe it will go out sooner, but it is not timely. That would be the mistake- to assume that discussing prejudice is going to go out of style in two months. Larry Kramer wrote The Normal Heart in the 1980s. HBO (and Broadway for that matter) could still dramatize it thirty years later without losing the outrage engendered by the original script.

In 1986, finishing up my time at college in southern Ohio, I had directed some stage shows. In doing so, I had apparently developed a reputation for being a bit driven to do whatever needed doing to get the show up. Some friends in the local gay alliance were interested in doing a show about AIDS, which had come to our community with all its horror and little of the necessary understanding. We elected to do The Normal Heart, a show raising hackles in New York City at the time. As it turned out, we needed theater faculty sponsorship in order to stage the show using school facilities. (I don’t recall always obtaining such a vouchsafe, but if you wanted to do things right…) The problem was that school leadership at the time was not entirely comfortable acknowledging so overtly that homosexuals might be involved in theater. Ultimately, my adviser sponsored us, but urged us to dump The Normal Heart for As Is. Maybe he was right- the show was more anecdotal and just odd enough to fit my directorial skill set of the time. The producers and I agreed.

The show was a success for the space, the place, and the time. Some memories:
-finding and leaving undisturbed our lead sitting with two parents after a performance quietly talking with two parents who had just learned that their son was gay and had AIDS
-getting called outside during intermission and chewed out by two straight graduate students because two minor characters in the show were portrayed too explicitly as effeminate
-my good friend, Steve, making our simple set perfect by lining the walls with large sheets of paper detailing in colossal print the then-current statistics of the epidemic

More than being gay or a writer, Larry Kramer has stayed in public as an angry man. That anger has fueled some powerful social commentary that needs to be remembered two months from now and two years from now. Life comes in too many variations just within our species for anyone to claim perfect knowledge of the right path. You don’t get to define anyone else’s destination and damn you for trying. The best art, from Voltaire to George Orwell, has never stopped reminding us to let our brothers and sisters be as long as they are not hurting anyone else.

Scott and John, our two leads and my friends, have been gone a long time now. I formed a comedy troupe with Scott and we had some great times. I lost contact with both. It can be awfully damn hard to keep track of the things that are important.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 258 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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