The Normal Heart

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It is Saturday and I don’t have any definite plans. Shall I relax indoors after a week of hot and then hotter, sheltering from the constant drizzle that persists outside my window?

Don’t be silly. It’s Big Apple Barbeque today and tomorrow. An extravaganza of outdoor cooking performed by meat pitmasters from all over North America. It is only drizzling and I am hungry as is custom at lunchtime and cannot think of anything I would like more than a pulled pork shoulder with baked bean side followed by beef brisket and a sausage for dessert. So off we go, purchasing umbrellas on the way to queue like the good Englishwomen we are for our barbeque chow.

Perched on the end of a drenched picnic table we demolish our plate of grill, unabated by the accompanying downpour and focused entirely on our carnivorous undertaking. It is not until there is no more meat to be had that we are aware of our soaked garments and unmistakeable smoked meaty odour. However, this has been a success nonetheless and since the day seems to have dried up we move onwards and uptown to our next plan for this grizzly Saturday on Manhattan Island.

My next Tony nominated performance is The Normal Heart. This play is an unyielding attack on the handling of the birth and progression of an epidemic that has killed over 35 million people worldwide. This semi-autobiographical play, written by Larry Kramer, presents his titanic frustration as this unknown illness we now know as AIDS, began killing primarily gay men throughout North America in the 1980s. Written and first performed in New York City in 1985, Kramer tells his story of activism and societal obstruction as he tried to document how this killer virus was being largely ignored and the prejudices against the gay community, which led to a slow response from the government to confront it.

Overall I thought this play was excellent. Some speeches were outstanding. In particular a character named Mickey gives a gut-wrenching monologue as this activist group attempt to make headway in both publicising the epidemic and gaining support for funds to be attributed to the desperate research that was needed. He works for some health consultancy firm and as such has spent his life researching how to best advise the public on such epidemics and good health practice in life. At the moment of this outburst he is about to lose his job for being associated with this gay movement and is being torn apart by his guilt as he feels he has made no impact. More and more of his friends are dying around him. I felt the full weight of this speech and as the scene ended, I looked around me to find my neighbours with equally sodden cheeks, as their eyes glistened in light of this emotive piece. In fact this was not an isolated incident. This was the first time that I have heard such weeping from an audience, such that it might even distract the players on the stage. I was using all my strength to hold in the tears and try not to blurt out any disruptive noises but there was an audible emotion surrounding me as shoulders heaved and tissues plugged eyes and noses. I watched the last 20 minutes with blurry vision as this devastating play wrapped up the misery with more misery and the clear heartache as this deadly virus travels from one person to the next with anguishing result.

If you want uplifting play don’t see The Normal Heart. If you want reality in painful definition than by all means this is the night for you. Just don’t come crying to me when you are….um…. well weeping.

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