Theater for Change

Is Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart Still Relevant to the Younger Generation?

Daryl Roth, queen of New York theater, just announced that Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart is offering a “one-night-only” discount for twinks, er, people born after 1980–just about the year AIDS hit America–to see a special performance on May 26. The $30 ticket includes a talkback featuring the cast, reporter Frank DiLella, Playbill Magazine editor-in-chief Blake Ross, and Roth herself in a discussion about the show’s impact in 2011.

The story of a city in denial over a burgeoning pandemic, The Normal Heart premiered at the Public Theater in 1985 and opened to stellar reviews on April 19, 2011. The  new production, directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe, features performances by Ellen Barkin, Patrick Breen, Mark Harelik, John Benjamin Hickey, Luke Macfarlane, Joe Mantello, Lee Pace, Jim Parsons, Richard Topol, and Wayne Alan Wilcox. It’s considered a Tony favorite, with multiple nominations.

“Seeing this play in 1985 and acting in it was a life changing experience,” Grey has said. “I’m grateful that Larry Kramer has entrusted me with his masterpiece.”

A percentage of the proceeds from The Normal Heart production supports the Actors Fund, amfAR, Freedom to Marry, Friends in Deed, Human Rights Campaign, and The Trevor Project. We can only imagine how much the current twelve-week run of The Normal Heart will raise for these organizations.

Photo credit Joan Marcus

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  • James

    Being a high schooler who recently just saw this play, I have to say I truly enjoyed it It wasn’t the best writing, but its partly this rawness that gives The Normal Heart its emotional power.The cast also did a fantastic job, especially Joe Mantello. I strongly recommend you see this play, regardless of your age.

  • Mike in Asheville


    “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” — Winston Churchill

  • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

    George Santayana, the notable philosopher, coined the phrase, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

  • Mike in Asheville

    @Ted B. (Charging Rhino):

    The more common translation of George Santayana quote is: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 1905.

    Churchill’s quote is from 1910.

    HOWEVER, it was Edmund Burke who wrote: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” 1756.

    Certainly both Santayana and Churchill were well aware of Burke; Santayana had an extensive international education and career while Churchill was a significant historian well versed English philosophy (Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his extensive histories).


    I selected the Churchill quote because of his use of the word “learn” instead of “remember” or “know”. Both “remember” and “know” seem to imply that the subject of the history is more well known to the culture. “Learn” implies that there is a lesson being told, and that is my impression of the intent of the play.

  • eric

    history and art are relevant to every generation.

  • Eric

    why should i care that a bunch of upper-middle class white queens apparently died of aids? because all i see is a white cast – and you expect this to appeal to a younger generation? yeah, maybe a younger generation of white upper middle-class queens, whose lives the play basically targets. gay people of color don’t give a crap about larry kramer and his extravagant attitude about gay suffering when he seems to only be concerned with white people, and when the greater community only seems to be concerned with white people, too.

  • ohplease

    Yo, Eric — it’s a play about specific people in a specific time, not a play about how many people of color we can miscast in a story in which they didn’t appear. For heaven’s sake, this show is co-directed by George C. Wolfe, who has never been shy about color-blind casting. If George C. Wolfe didn’t see ANY opportunities for people of color to be in this play, you can rest assured there weren’t any. And I’m just guessing here, but I’m pretty sure George C. Wolfe knows a little bit more about theatre than you.

    If you don’t understand how theatre works, that’s fine. If you don’t know your history about America, or gays, or AIDS, or the theatre, that’s fine, too. What’s not fine is spouting off about that which you do not know. That’s just boorish.

    Maybe a playwright of color could have written a play about his experiences in leading the fight against the government and the healthcare industry in order to save gay men from dying of AIDS at the start of the plague, if only such a playwright existed. Since he didn’t, be glad someone who did lead such a fight was smart enough to chronicle it in a highly-regarded work of art, even if it is beyond your ability to comprehend or appreciate.

    And being a racist isn’t funny or cute or entertaining or adult, no matter which race it is you hate.

  • Eric

    @ohplease: i don’t care how much you tell me about george c. wolfe or anyone else, and i definitely know enough about theatre to know how it functions, and since gay minorities were not incorporated in the play from the beginning then it just points to the larger dismissive attitude gay white activists – and the larger gay white community – have had toward minority gays, which is arguably even worse today.

    you can both fuck off. i don’t care if you’re a gay white racist, but at least stop trying to bullshit everyone else into thinking otherwise.

  • Abel

    The play is at least as relevant as BOYS IN THE BAND. At the very least, it’s an artifact of some interest and should be seen. I’ve only read it, never have seen it. I have a lot of admiration for its author. Less than a decade later, ANGELS IN AMERICA set a whole new tone for gay/AIDS theatre. But Larry Kramer made a real difference in our lives, and we shouldn’t forget that. I await his new American history book with great interest.

  • Cam

    @Eric: said…

    “why should i care that a bunch of upper-middle class white queens apparently died of aids? because all i see is a white cast – and you expect this to appeal to a younger generation? yeah, maybe a younger generation of white upper middle-class queens, whose lives the play basically targets. gay people of color don’t give a crap about larry kramer and his extravagant attitude about gay suffering when he seems to only be concerned with white people, and when the greater community only seems to be concerned with white people, too.”

    What a sad little racist you are. Here’s a thought douche. Kramer wrote about what was happening around him at the time.

    So by YOUR logic, why should anybody but black people care about what is going on in black neighborhoods? Why should anybody but hispanics care about anything that isn’t going on right there in their neighborhood?

    Why should lesbians care about helping with AIDS, and why should men donate money to help with Breast Cancer?

    But wait, you probably aren’t listening, you’re probably already stamping your feet and yelling about something else that happened to you today, like they got your coffee order wrong at Starbucks.

  • Jeffree

    @Eric: You lost all credibility at “apparently died of aids”… Not knowing any history, you are condemned to the hell of your small mind, bitter heart, and wretched ignorance.

  • Habit Rouge

    It’s relevant, why? because minus the multitude of antiretrovirals now, the events that lead to the AIDS scare of the early 80s are being repeated 30 years later because HIV ain’t nothin’ to be worried about if we believe GSK, Merck and Johnson & Johnson [not to mention the multitude of gay publications that advertise them (it’s great money, I know)].

    The idea that we’re just years away from an HIV vaccine is still very much rampant among those not involved in the medical field. Even worse, there are still AIDS deniers. There’s a myth that you can’t transmit HIV if you have an undetectable viral load (sigh).

    Unfortunately, there are many people in my generation who don’t care about anything that’s not fabulous, happenin’ or ‘sick’. So yea I can agree that the old quote being said earlier may become true.

    Larry Kramer knew what he was doing when he wrote this. According to ATPO, he wrote it after he was kicked out of GMHC (which was his idea to begin with)and thank capital H.I.M. (GaGa!) he was.

  • Eric

    @Cam: i laugh when gay white queens throw the “racist” word around like it has credibility. it doesn’t, it just makes you look like a colossal know-nothing douche.

    you tell me that kramer was just writing about what was going on around him. so, did aids apparently only affect white queens? larry kramer is basically NYC-based and has had thousands of contacts and acquaintances throughout his life, and you mean to tell me not one person of color was relevant enough to include his story? am i to assume that he only befriended and cared about his fellow gay white men? yes, apparently so.

    and your “logic” analogy fails, asshole, since my comment was half sarcasm to prove a point. the whole point i was making was about racial inclusiveness of everyone, not the segregation you white queens routinely practice toward gay minorities. aids affected everyone, not just gay white men, and yet you expect gay poc to come flocking to a play that doesn’t even address them. you routinely exclude gay minorities and then you wanna holler about their apparent “racism” when they call you on it. sorry but you don’t get that privilege.

  • David Ehrenstein

    I’ll send Larry and e-mail to tell him to be sure to wirte his next play all sbout you, “Eric” — and the overwhelming importance of kissing your useless black ass.

  • edfu

    @Eric: This play is based on historical fact. As Kramer has frequently pointed out, all the events depicted in it, from 1981 to 1984, actually happened, and all the characters in it are based on real people.

    I know this is true, because I was there, and I knew all the real people and I heard the conversations in the play. I was there in Kramer’s living room when we founded GMHC in 1981-1982. The fact of the matter is that there were no black men in that founding group. There were some Hispanics.

    Since all of us volunteered to be there, Eric, you will have to ask yourself why no blacks volunteered. I would suggest that there are complicated reasons for that, but racism on the part of Kramer and the rest of us was not one of them. We were desperate for volunteers and would have gladly accepted anyone who was interested enough. The “relevance” of black men infected with HIV at that time is not germane to your criticism; if the play doesn’t directly “address” them, it is simply because they weren’t there at that historical moment. You have no right or basis to criticize a 100% accurate portrayal of what was actually happening then.

  • Eric

    @David Ehrenstein: funny because i never mentioned anywhere that i was black. but i guess you are just projecting.
    @edfu: i have every right to criticize it, and i have. i don’t take any of it back.

  • ZT

    If it’s as badly written as that version of Lost Horizon he did, I sure don’t care to see it.

  • Jeffree

    @edfu: Thanks for the info on the backstory of the play. Sad troll Eric, however, wants the true history to be made less realistic and more 2011, because it upsets his tender sensibilities.

    Kramer’s work just doesn’t jibe with what Eric learned from that long article he once tried to read about “Queer Theory”!
    — — —
    Introducing this work to a new generation is important, because the story needs to be told and retold.

  • Cam

    @Eric: said…

    “@Cam: i laugh when gay white queens throw the “racist” word around like it has credibility. it doesn’t, it just makes you look like a colossal know-nothing douche………
    and your “logic” analogy fails, asshole, since my comment was half sarcasm to prove a point.

    Ohhhh, the TYPICAL response from the sad little racist who got called on his B.S.

    You can’t EXPLAIN why apparently YOU can say racist, but when you behave in a racist way, nobody else can, by your judgement call you out on it. But JUST in case people figure out your comment is B.S. you add in the last line of “Oh,…uh…I Was just being sarcastic anyway!” LOL!!!!

    Does your freshmen level Antro-101 teachre accept such shoddy reasoning from you?

    The fact is, you made race based attacks, with no backing, and have now hurled out “Queens” as if that was an insulting label too, so you are either a right wing troll trying to stire up trouble, or you are a racist, and self hating gay who thinks that just because you stamp your foot and scream loud about minorities, that you are noble and above reproach.

    Your question of “Was this not happening to blacks too?” is idiotic, AGAIN, I’ll hit back with, should hispanics then not go see the movie “Precious” and have as their excuse. “How DARE they not show White Kids getting abused too! This doesn’t only happen to blacks, so why should WE go?” That is EXACTLY what your statement is.

    So bascially, you are a racist, and by your use of “Queen” as an insult, either a right wing troll, or a self hater also.

    Deal with it…..racist.

  • Jay

    @eric: At the time I recall the right-wingers decrying the “Haitians” who brought HIV to America. Why don’t you write a play about them, if it was even true. I also recall reading much later that “patient zero” was a white flight attendant. Do you complain about other period plays not having minority characters? If Reagan and the right-wingers had done anything at all to try and stop the epidemic there wouldn’t be an HIV epidemic in the black community. Why don’t you write a play about that? And you don’t have to cast any white people!

  • Tommy

    Well, I for one am personally greatful to the angry race troll whose comments acted as a lighting rod that deflected the usual bile we spew towards “anyone who got this disease since 19XX”. That diatribe is so old, so annoying and so part and parcel for anything that touches on Kramer or HIV. I was really relieved to read somethign that didn’t use phrases like “bring it on themselves”, “what are they thinking”, “stupid dancing twinks”, etc.

    For the record, everyone’s collective hissy fit against the troll, their presumptions about who he is and their refusal to seek understanding of what he’s saying is at least as obnoxious as they think he is. Going forward, I’d humbly suggest you people take the higher ground and explain why Kramer’s dated and seemingly racist image of life in the eighties is neither racist nor irrellevant. Of course, if ya’ll did that, you guys might be so busy teaching that you wouldn’t get a chance to feel smug about all the “teaching” you think you do. I know this suggestion isn’t any fun, but it’d be a hell of a lot more effective.

  • Mike in Asheville

    @Tommy: I “second” your comment.

    After coming back to see what others had to say about this post (my comments No. 2 & 4), I was somewhat floored by the back-and-forth over Eric’s comments and the responses to him.

    While I think that Eric is misguided in his critique of Kramer and the play, that doesn’t mean that crux of his point is wrong, its misplaced. The Obama haters show that racism is alive and well in the US; homophobia will continue at least as long-lived as racism.

  • Jay

    @Mike in Asheville: Eric is definitely misguided.

    He is confusing a play based on real people with fictional plays that could be recast and rewritten a little.” The Normal Heart” is a snapshot in history like the recent movie about Harvey Milk. If you want a diverse cast then remake the fictional “Love! Valour! Compassion”. Hollywood is chock full of rewritten fictionalized “history” so be my guest. Leave real history alone.

    Eric is just another chronic complaining race pimp.

  • Tommy

    @Jay: Yup, and there we have it, someone had to go and haul out the word “pimp” to describe an angry black man. You couldn’t just call him out on his behavior without demonstrating your own racism.

    Reality check: The concerns of SOME gay men don’t always apply to ALL gay men, and the “truth” is something which we only seem to tolerate from a privileged few, like Kramer. Most of you spend your days digesting reality through pre-packaged bits fed to you by queerty, broadway and whatever 99 cent app your iPhone recommends. Instead of asking if there was something legitimate to someone else’s reality, you all freaked out when he questioned one of Gay Inc’s high priests. Yeah, I said it, Larry Kramer is very much a part of Gay Inc. I wonder if Larry appreciates the irony of it.

    Almost none of you will be able to understand someone else’s point of view until your bubble bursts. Those of us who realize this have fun poking and prodding, and hoping that we might just instigate the pop that leads to an “aha” moment. We do this because we feel you’re a bunch of self-rightious privileged brats with a one-sided view of life, this virus and your place in the world. We bother because we feel your ignorance makes this virus, your quest for “equality” and the planet, worse. Oh, I’m sorry, is that offensive? Does it make you feel marginalized? Don’t worry, “It Gets Better” ™.

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