Aired on KSDS-FM on 12/2/16
RUN DATES: 11/19/16 – 12/23/16
VENUE: ion theatre
In the early 1980s, young, vibrant gay men were dropping dead in droves. One angry, combative activist became hellbent on finding out why, and getting funding for research. AIDS didn’t even have a name yet. But everyone was turning a blind eye to the crisis.
Larry Kramer, long-time writer and agitator, documented his experience in battling the rampant institutional lack of interest from the government, the media, the healthcare establishment and even the gay community.
His potent 1985 drama, “The Normal Heart,” which was revived on Broadway in 2011, continues to pack a gut-punch. Just as AIDS-related illnesses continue to kill over a million people a year worldwide.
Kramer centers his story on Ned Weeks, his pugnacious alter ego, who becomes enraged by watching so many friends die, as the rest cavalierly continue their promiscuous lifestyle. His abrasive personality and explosive temper resulted in his being ousted from the organization he helped to found, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Kramer was also expelled from the more politically aggressive group he co-created, ACT-UP, an acronym for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Despite his own long-term HIV-positive status, Kramer, at age 81, is still acting up on behalf of PWAs, People Living With AIDS.
Recognizing that the tragedy is far from over, ion theatre has mounted a taut, passionate and touching production of “The Normal Heart” — stark, piercing and at the end, a two-tissue tear-jerker. The cohesive nine-person ensemble portrays multiple roles with aplomb, with standout performances by Kim Strassburger as the doctor who was as stubborn and steadfast as Ned; Daren Scott as Ned’s ambivalent and unaccepting lawyer-brother; and Alexander Guzman as the skittish New York Times Style writer who loves Ned but, like many of his other friends, won’t jeopardize his position to get the word out about the epidemic.
The heart of this “Normal Heart” is Claudio Raygoza, who gives a tour de force performance as Ned, while also co-directing, and designing the set, sound and projections. Indefatigable and inimitable in his own right, Raygoza does justice to the man he portrays.
©2016 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews