It’s odd that Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, about the beginning of the AIDS crisis, is the state’s first staging of this 1985 drama. Now at the Freede Little Theatre under the fine direction of René Moreno, it was worth the wait.
The play was once topical and is now historical. Set between 1981 and 1984 in New York City (“Noo Yawk” accents abound in this production), Heart gives one pause to consider how much things have changed in 30 years.
In one scene, protagonist Ned Weeks (the commanding Jonathan Beck Reed), a writer who lives comfortably, if not lavishly, on a trust fund, says the epidemic must change the gay community. It did, resulting in how the rest of the world perceives the gay community.
If you don’t believe that, look at the results of last week’s elections, when three states legalized same-sex marriage.
The play clearly shows how difficult it was to motivate medical researchers, the government and even gays themselves into action, when no one was sure what was happening. Reactions ranged from indifference to fear. Rumor had it that the disease was a CIA plot to wipe out homosexuals.
The expert acting in City Rep’s production is a marvel to behold.
Weeks — who admittedly has a big mouth and bad temper, along with a sense of urgency, or what some may call a lack of patience — leads a group of friends in organizing information about the disease.
They include a hospital administrator (Brian Hamilton, with a molassesthick Southern accent), a healthdepartment publicist (the appealing Michael Corolla) and a wealthy Citibank vice president (the chiseled Drew Pollock). Also, Weeks engages a New York Times reporter (the devastating Matthew Alvin Brown), who’s originally from Oklahoma.
Dr. Emma Brookner (Stacey Logan) is one of the first physicians to notice the unnamed disease. Michael Jones is excellent as Ned’s brother, Ben.
City Rep’s production is highly effective and commendable. Amanda Foust’s austere scenic design consists of 24 translucent panels, which serve as screens for projections of various pertinent images that accumulate. The play comprises 16 scenes, so a certain amount of schlepping props occurs, but Moreno’s efficient direction keeps the action moving.
The Normal Heart needs to be seen. It’s not only brilliant, engaging theater, but also a lesson in how we must all make sure that knowledge triumphs over ignorance.