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Review - The Normal Heart: a gripping and believable performance

By Lilian Harrington

The Normal Heart

By Larry Kramer

Ad Astra Theatre

57 Misterton St. Fortitude Valley

Season Opens November 3 – December 1. Bookings: Try booking

AD Astra is a boutique professional theatre that packs a punch with the programs that it presents. It chooses writers who flag serious matters that have affected our lives. The Normal Heart is set in 1980’s USA, when the AIDS epidemic was prevalent and had spread so much it had become a fatal medical condition for many in the homosexual community.

At the time, public sentiment was against gays, as many failed to understand how serious the virus was and who it could affect. It was a battle to get authorities in the USA, to provide funding for research and support to AIDS victims.

The extent of this epidemic can be compared to the recent deadly international COVID virus outbreak. It became so difficult for medical practitioners and lobby groups such as the Gay Rights Lobby group, working undercover, to get authorities to recognise the need to pass legal regulations and provide funding for research so as to identify and fight the deadly virus. Kramer’s play focuses on the battle that the Gay Community had to get recognition and support to fight the AIDS outbreak in the 1980’s. .

The late American Playwright, Larry Kramer, was an outspoken, gay rights activist. His poignant and controversial writings highlighted controversial matters and earned him fame and mixed reviews. His passion to get help, funding and support for members of the Gay Community suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), proved a major challenge in American society at the time because it had a non-acceptance of homosexuality and would not face up to the resulting serious repercussions the AIDS Epidemic had brought.

Ad Astra have staged The Normal Heart in a simplistic and slick style, directed by Michelle Carey and Anna Loren. The cast, led by experienced actor, Gregory Wilken as Ned Weeks, are confident and compelling. It was a “must do” for Ad Astra to bring this important play to the Brisbane stage, because of the way homosexuality has been perceived for so long. Audience can relate to family members or friends, from their own experiences of this time in history when to be different brought pain and unhappiness. This production illustrated in a very graphic way, the issues that the Gay Community experienced in the USA, in the 1980’s with a realistic and vital portrayal.

The audience was riveted, anticipating events throughout the production. This play is an autobiographical account of Kramer’s own battles, involved with setting up the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Movement, (which has now become the world’s largest private organization for men living with AIDS), he tried to overcome the prejudice that existed against gay people and apathy of other gay men in the States. He battled for help and assistance for medical research and funding to help find a cure. His approach and efforts did not always please his peers and the loss of his lover Felix (Felix Jarvis) was an inspiration to write The Normal Heart out of frustration and because of the attitudes seen towards the Gay community.

The Ad Astra production shows great team work and sensitivity, the cast show moments of brilliance as they spell out the challenges and journey that were faced with as a community. For instance, Tommy Boatwright (Rad Valance) and Ben Weeks (Luke O Neill), show confidence and brilliance. (Sam Hocking ), plays a complex and interesting leader of the GMHCM, when he is forced to push Ned Weeks out of the group. The use of theatre techniques and some special effects helped nail some intimate scenes in this minimalistic set, with its black walls and images of American states, along with strong interaction and dialogue between characters, made for a gripping and believable performance and great theatre. It provided a great atmosphere and gave movement and focus to the production.


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