‘The Normal Heart’ detaches HIV/AIDS from its negative taboo

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Author: Will Westwater

Larry Kramer’s semi-autobiographical play, “The Normal Heart,” beautifully tells a story about living with HIV/AIDS. While the play first premiered in the 1980s, the issues remain relevant today and will enlighten viewers about how the HIV/AIDS epidemic affects the LGBTQ community. The show will run at the Fountain Theatre for the next two months.

In New York City during the 1980s, Ned Weeks (Tim Cummings), a Jewish-American homosexual, starts a group (a stand-in for Gay Men’s Health Crisis) for people afflicted with and fighting HIV/AIDS, which was then an unknown disease. As the death toll rises, primarily amongst homosexual men in New York, so does the desperation among the disease’s victims and their friends. Ned’s group supports direct action and tries to spread the message of abstinence in an effort to combat HIV/AIDS.

Politics play an important role in the production, as some characters don’t want to ruin their reputation by touching such a sensitive issue as HIV/AIDS. Co-leaders of the group, Ned and Bruce (Stephen O’Mahoney), clash because of their different approaches to directorship. Ned prefers loud, confrontational and direct action in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, but Bruce remains cautious. Their supporters cannot always follow Ned’s lead for fear of losing social standing.

In the midst of this upheaval, Ned finds love. The romantic plot line connects the statistics and facts about HIV/AIDS to something the audience can see right on stage. The audience witnesses his love and loss firsthand, with an ending that is simultaneously unexpected and heart-wrenching.

“The Normal Heart” loses some of its potency through too much repetition. During the two-and-a-half-hour play there is a bit too much screaming and re-hashing of the same issues. The production drives home one particular point over and over again: In the ’80s and even today, some of these issues that plague the LGBTQ community can be so polarizing that people do not want to show support at all.

The play nonetheless highlights the challenges that people, particularly in the LGBTQ community, face regularly. Characters grapple with not only the physical aspect of HIV/AIDS, but also the social stigma that accompanies the disease. The play captures the helplessness of people whose voices aren’t being heard, and Ned’s desperation when he realizes that fighting the epidemic will require more than the efforts of a single person. “The Normal Heart” is a beautiful play that is quite worth the trip to the Fountain.

“The Normal Heart” runs most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sundays until Dec. 15. The show is located at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. Los Angeles.

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