Breathtaking revival is full of ‘Heart’

“The Normal Heart” ends its limited engagement on July 10.

A flash virus is terrorizing New York City. Each month, the number of deaths increases exponentially. No one knows what it is, where it came from or what to do about it. And more importantly, no one  seems to care.

That’s because in the early 1980s, AIDS only seemed to affect the overlooked, ostracized gay community; but throughout “The Normal Heart,” this acronym is ominously absent as research has not yet progressed so far as to identify the syndrome. It’s a nameless, faceless terror attacking those with no power to fight it — a group that, similar to the disease at large, is still struggling in search of recognition and identity.

Though the premise of this play sounds monstrous and depressing, it is a relatable, moving, vital piece of art calling attention to a cause that’s still highly relevant today. The social and political issues remain unresolved even 30 years later.

This revival (contending for five Tony Awards) is co-directed by Broadway heavyweights Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe. The cast features many players from the small screen, including Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”), Lee Pace (“Pushing Daises”) and John Benjamin Hickey (“The Big C”). Coming off a strong directing spree, Joe Mantello returns to acting as the angry, confused, railing Ned Weeks — an activist who learns to love just when it seems the four-letter word is destroying his friends, his community and his faith.

Though laughter intermittently accompanies wrenching sobs, the simply staged and beautifully written play strikes an even more invaluable balance: “The Normal Heart” supplies a powerful call to action that gives modern meaning to all of its historical heartbreak.


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