For many of us who were born in or around the late ’70s-early ’80s, The Normal Heart provides one of those rare lessons that can only be taught in the theatre. It helps us understand, emotionally, what it felt like to be witness to this monster. And it makes us angry. It teaches us about the inexcusable silence and ignorance of the government, media and even the community it plagued, all of which helped fuel the outbreak of the then-unnamed disease — less than 100 cases of which were reported in New York City in 1981 — that became a global pandemic, infecting over 75 million today and killing 35 million.
Last night, May 26, my friend and colleague Frank DiLella (NY1’s “On Stage”) and I hosted a special “$30 Under 30” night at The Normal Heart. Let me be clear — this is a show that everyone should see. But Frank and I wanted to help young people — perhaps those who can’t necessarily afford higher ticket prices — gain access to this vital history lesson.
I have seen this production a few times, but there was something about being in a theatre filled with an audience of all generations that infused me with an incredible energy. Apparently, that energy was contagious, because after the show, different members of the cast kept running up to us. “That was the most amazing audience we’ve ever had!” was the general consensus.
Jim Parsons, Luke MacFarlane, Lee Pace and Wayne Wilcox came to join us on stage for the talkback. But then stars (and 2011 Tony nominees — hopefully soon-to-be winners) Joe Mantello, John Benjamin Hickey and Ellen Barkin felt compelled to come out in the middle of the talkback and address the crowd. “I just want to say what an extraordinary audience you were tonight,” Mantello said (though you could barely hear him over the cheering). Perhaps the only larger round of applause was given to Kramer himself, who snuck into the back of the house. When I mentioned the letter that Larry often hands out after the show, Frank exclaimed, “I think I see Larry in the back. Larry, is that you?” The entire audience turned around to see the man himself (wearing his signature overalls and Normal Heart hat) modestly waving. Well, this caused the entire orchestra section to explode into a minute-long standing ovation.
All in all, it was an extraordinary evening that will stay with me forever. That may sound like hyperbole, but this show does something to me, and there isn’t a soap box big enough for me to stand on that can adequately express how much I I think you should see it.
Click here to see photos from last night.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Me yapping away with Frank DiLella, Jim Parsons, Luke MacFarlane and Lee Pace"][/caption]