The Normal Heart: Sometimes to Win a War, You Have to Start One
War could mean combat or murder, but in “The Normal Heart,” it means the fight against AIDS and HIV. Presented by the Starving Artists and Artists Against AIDS, the play ran three showings from March 18-19 at the University Theatre. “The Normal Heart” was directed by Connor Norton and written by Larry Kramer.
ODU’s adaptation of the play is based on the original, which had a largely successful Off-Broadway run at The Public Theater in 1985. “The Normal Heart” was revived in Los Angeles and London Off-Broadway in 2004. In 2011, it debuted on Broadway. In addition, a movie starring Mark Ruffalo was made in 2014.
The play is largely autobiographical and based on the life of Larry Kramer, an author, public health advocate and LGBT rights activist. He attempted suicide at Yale University because he felt like the only gay student on campus. This set him on his path to fight for gay people’s worth.
“Unlike other plays that I have performed in, this show was very political,” said Dexter Gore, who played the comic relief Tommy Boatwright in the play. “I had big shoes to fill. Many people after each show thanked myself and the rest of the cast for opening their eyes on the topics of HIV, AIDS and LGBTQIA+ culture. That alone made the experience of being in ‘The Normal Heart’ so special,” Gore said.
In addition to acting, Gore is a first year graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts program for Creative Writing, with a fiction concentration. He is also a graduate student assistant at the Office of Intercultural Relations.
“For me, directing this production of ‘The Normal Heart’ was telling the true story of an activist who can see the way the world can be,” director Connor Norton said.
“While the education and knowledge about the history of HIV/AIDS is great and important to be taught, let this also make waves to affect those who think about activists. The people posting angry and inflammatory Facebook posts all the time, the ones protesting in #BlackLivesMatter – they are giving more of themselves and their lives for the greater good than anyone will ever know,” Norton said.
Norton played the main character Ned Weeks.
Set in the early 1980s in New York City, it focused on the rise of a mysterious and deadly disease that killed mostly gay men. Mainstream news media chose to ignore it, while the protagonist, author and activist Ned Weeks and his friends raised money, resources and awareness. Weeks visits his brother Ben, a lawyer, for help but only passively received help and is exposed to his homophobia.
Weeks formed a prominent HIV advocacy group to cope with the loss of his friends and raise awareness of the disease. However, he prefers loud and public confrontations to the calmer, more private strategies preferred by his colleagues and closeted lover Felix Turner. The differences in approaches led to tension within the group and threatened to undermine their goals.
Proceeds of the production will go to AIDS Access Care. Located in Norfolk, this nonprofit has provided programs and services to families impacted by HIV and AIDS in the Hampton Roads. These services include HIV medical case management, medication assistance and HIV prevention through education and testing.
For more information about the Starving Artists, please visit odustarvingarts.com.