Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Normal Heart takes place from 1981 to 1984 in New York City. Ned Weeks is a regular guy, enraged to near madness by the senselessness and insensitivity of the world about the growing health crisis. Ned desperately wants love, but is fearful of it, and resists when it arrives in the form of handsome Felix (Jeremy Cole), but they do fall in love. It's Ned's first happy and committed relationship. But Felix contracts HIV, and eventually AIDS. Ned is agonizingly navigating another all-pervading relationship with his straight brother Ben, a successful attorney who loves Ned. But he cannot consider him as an equal because Ned's gay.
Ned forms an organization, the equivalent of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, with smooth-talking Bruce (Benoît Monin) as president. Ned's opposing rage-filled approach is powerful, but creates enemies. When Ned sees Dr. Brookner (Leticia Duarte) for a checkup, he listens to the doctor's advice that gay men refrain from sex, but at the time sexual freedom in the bathhouses was going strong, and promiscuity was seen by many as symbolizing freedom. As Bruce says, "The entire gay political platforms is fucking."
Kramer's words are powerful and emotional, and the cast is equal to the challenge it presents. Standouts include Leticia Duarte as wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookner. She is outstanding in the second act when she delivers an impassioned speech railing against the refusal of the U.S. government to fund her research into the disease. Tim Garcia is outstanding as Mickey, when he breaks down in the second act amid the stress of volunteering for the organization and keeping his job with the city government.
John Fisher gives a fine performance as Ned and he shows all sides of this infuriating, unbearable, and sometimes admirable man. Jeremy Cole gives an outstanding performance as Felix Turner. He is pitch perfect in the second act as Felix is dying of AIDS. Nick Moore, Jeremy Alan Howard, Robert Zelenka and Morgan Lange all give good performances.
Bottom Line: The Normal Heart is a long evening, but it never feels long, and I found it enthralling throughout.
The Normal Heart runs through November 25, 2017, at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco CA. For tickets and information, visit www.TheRhino.org or call 800-838-3006.