Larry Kramer: All the rage
July 1, 2011
Broadway audiences are sluttish when it comes to standing ovations. But even given their relentless enthusiasm, the reaction to the first-night preview of the revival of The Normal Heart in April was something else. Clapping at the end of scenes. Cries of ‘Shame’ during others. Then, at the end, the kind of thunderous applause to warm any actor’s heart and fire an audience’s passion, conscience and for many, painful memories.
Larry Kramer’s play, first staged in 1985, is a moving, raw piece, focussing on the early years of AIDS, from 1981-1984, the years when HIV and AIDS didn’t have names, or scientific reasons for being: before the drugs, before the organisations, before anyone knew what it was that was killing mainly gay men in New York where The Normal Heart is set.
In the play, the city refuses to allocate money to fund prevention and advertising, while gay men, grouping together to care for one another and fight for healthcare under the auspices of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC, unnamed in the play), became frightened about the transmission of the disease and whether those who had it could be kissed, or even touched. One man’s body is left in a giant plastic bag with the rubbish. On the first preview, the play came to a standstill when Ellen Barkin, playing a doctor trying to secure money and a smidgeon of interest from her scientific peers for her research, loses it with one of them when he snidely dismisses her. Her ringing denunciation earned a rousing round of applause.
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