The Phoenix Network:
 
 
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
 

With feeling

Mad Horse's latest show has exceptional heart
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  June 10, 2010

theater_normalheart_main
TIMELESS RELEVANCE Highlighting the struggles within and without.

From the darkness, a hand strikes chalk against a spot-lit blackboard: July 1981, it writes, and then, 16. Those are the date and the death count with which we begin The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer's outraged 1985 drama about the terrifying early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York City's gay community. Later, a hand will cross out July and write September; will cross out 16 and write 41. Then October and 107, then March and 227. The spiraling dates and numbers pace the harrowing course of Kramer's play, directed by Christine Louise Marshall for Mad Horse.

THE NORMAL HEART | Written by Larry Kramer | Directed by Christine Louise Marshall | Produced by Mad Horse Theatre Company, at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company | through June 20 | 207.730.2389
Writer and career belligerent Ned Weeks (Peter Brown) and his friends know many of those numbers personally. And so in terror, grief, and anger at the straight community's indifference, Ned spearheads a grassroots movement against the spread of the disease, carried out in articles, mailings, marches, and the basement of City Hall. Working with him are a range of men — including Stonewall-era activist Mickey (James Herrera); Tommy (Jordan William), a young blond Southerner who works for city health; and closeted banker Bruce (Burke Brimmer) — along with Dr. Emma Brookner (Janice Gardner), the sympathetic physician who more than anyone else in medicine has seen the ravages of the outbreak. Working against them are a government unwilling to acknowledge the scope of the disease or fund its research, a gay community divided by ideology (of which Ned and his oft-feuding fellow activists are a microcosm), a virus that works far faster than they do, and the early '80s horrific stigmatization of gays and AIDS.

Twenty-five years after its premiere, during which we've seen monumental shifts in both culture and medicine, Kramer's work holds up remarkably. It still resonates in part because of its dramatic genres: This is a consciousness-raising play, to be sure, but it's also a political drama, and it gives a gripping glimpse into the inner intrigue and tensions of the movement. Ned has to contend not just with in-denial Ed Koch's policies, but also with Bruce's reluctance to have the word "gay" spelled out too publicly, and with Mickey's adamance that to advise gay men against promiscuity is anti-liberation. The men's scenes at headquarters are taut and volatile, driven by sharp, colorful acting by Herrera and William and by the haunted reserve of Brimmer's Bruce. And this is also a play about love, as Ned finds, falls for, and promptly begins to lose Times writer Felix (James Hoban, affectingly).

Perhaps the most theatrically difficult element of this show is Ned's sustained and ever-rising anger. The danger is that his rage will plateau and so lose its impact, and at times Brown does seem to coast a little too comfortably on Ned's harsh bark and sarcasm. But he also brings Ned's volume and tone down into fine intimate banter with Felix, and on several occasions, his emotion flares anew with startling purity: When his brother Ben (David Jacobs) admits that he can't see him as his equal; when he is ousted from his own organization for being too outspoken.

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Theater , Health and Fitness, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Contagious and Infectious Diseases,  More more >
| More


ARTICLES BY MEGAN GRUMBLING
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   THE DREAM LIVES ON  |  July 31, 2014
    The Deertrees experience is not just theater shows, and not just its program of concerts. Deertrees is also a certain ethos of small-town summertime in Maine.
  •   STEEL POPPIES  |  July 18, 2014
    Linda Sturdivant directs a spirited and attractively appointed production of the musical The Full Monty , the Americanized version of the 1997 British film, at the historic City Theater, in Biddeford.
  •   THE MOST BRUTAL SPORT  |  July 11, 2014
    Ballet is not for pussies.
  •   DISTILLED PORTRAIT  |  July 10, 2014
    The greatest love of the show’s title—for both Chamberlain and its audience—remains the war itself.
  •   MAKE/BELIEVE  |  June 25, 2014
    Portland is already in the thick of the PortFringe 2014, the city’s third annual festival of eclectic, wide-ranging theater from here and afar. This year’s festival of 50 shows runs June 24-29 at six venues — Empire, Geno’s, Mayo Street Arts, SPACE Gallery, and the Portland Stage Studio Theater and Storefront — and includes a first-ever Family Fringe program.

 See all articles by: MEGAN GRUMBLING



  |  Sign In  |  Register
 
thePhoenix.com:
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
TODAY'S FEATURED ADVERTISERS
Copyright © 2014 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group