David Esbjornson Named New Director of Worth Street Revival of Normal Heart

News   David Esbjornson Named New Director of Worth Street Revival of Normal Heart
David Esbjornson has been named the new director of the Worth Street Theatre Company's Off-Broadway revival of The Normal Heart, which will begin at the Public Theater's Anspacher space on April 6.

David Esbjornson
David Esbjornson Photo by Aubrey Reuben

He replaces Jeff Cohen, artistic director of Worth Street. The development is an unusual one for the company, since Cohen typically directs every Worth Street production.

“I am very honored to have assembled this phenomenal cast and design team,” said Cohen in a statement. “During the course of rehearsal, however, it became apparent that a change would be in the best interest of the production, and I was happy that such a wonderful director as David Esbjornson was available to step into the process.”

Esbjornson stated, “I am thrilled to be working with Larry again and with this wonderful group of actors and designers on such an important play.” Esbjornson was the director of Larry Kramer’s lesser-known play, Just Say No, at the WPA Theater.

The cast remains the same. Stars are Raul Esparza, as activist Ned Weeks, and Joanna Gleason in the choice role of fiery, wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookner. Also in the cast are Fred Berman, Richard Bekins, McCaleb Burnett, Mark Dobies, Jay Russell, Billy Warlock and Paul Whitthorne.

Opening is April 21. Gleason will end a long hiatus from the New York stage with The Normal Heart. The part of Brookner—which features a show-stopping, second-act speech—has been an attention-getter in the past.

After cutting a sizable Broadway profile in the 1980s and early 1990s in such shows as Into the Woods (for which she won a Tony), Social Security, Joe Egg and the famous 1991 debacle Nick and Nora, Gleason decamped for the west coast. Over the last decade, she has starred in such short-lived series as "Love and War," "Temporarily Yours," "Oh Baby" and "Bette," as well as putting in guest stints on "Friends" and "The West Wing."

Esparza starred in the Broadway musical Taboo, which closed Feb. 8. The versatile actor made his name with a series of acclaimed performances in Cabaret, The Rocky Horror Show and tick, tick...BOOM!.

For the revival, the company will take up residence at The Public Theater, which first produced the play 20 years ago. The drama, is one of the first plays about the emergence of AIDS — and the anger, frustration and fear surrounding it.

The play ran a year at The Public after its debut in 1985.

The lack of response by politicians and the media is addressed in the angry, visceral drama about Ned Weeks and his circle of friends. Writer and AIDS activist Kramer told Variety that if people screamed as much about AIDS in its early years as they are about the flu-like SARS today, "It is a plague that never need have happened."

The action of the play takes place between July 1981 and May 1984, making it a period piece before "Will and Grace," before domestic partner benefits and before powerful drugs were developed to suppress HIV and prolong the lives of those infected. The disease is now an international epidemic.

In the original production, Brad Davis created the role of crusader Ned Weeks, and Joel Grey later took over the part.

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