The Normal Heart

An alarming examination of an ignored epidemic

Presented by Studio 180 in association with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Written by Larry Kramer
Joel Greenberg

Sarah Orenstein and Jonathan Wilson. Photo by Karri North.

If you missed Studio 180′s critically acclaimed production of The Normal Heart last year, be sure to catch it this fall at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Set in New York City between 1981 and 1984, Larry Kramer’s semi-autobiographical play chronicles the rise of the AIDS crisis through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks (Jonathan Wilson), the gay Jewish founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. The story opens in the office of Ned’s friend Dr. Emma Brookner (Sarah Orenstein), a wheelchair-bound physician and polio survivor who has already treated several victims of this unknown deadly disease.

One man, David (Mark McGrinder), has spots growing on his cheek, another, Craig (Mark Crawford), is newly diagnosed and near hysteria. Here, we also meet Craig’s closeted partner Bruce Niles (Martin Happer), who has come to comfort him. The feeling in the doctor’s office is one of mutual confusion and fear, which inspires the excitable Ned to take up the cause of speaking out about the mysterious virus. But when a visit to his lawyer brother Ben (John Bourgeois) proves disappointing, Ned is left to raise money and awareness without Ben’s support.

With the help of Bruce, his friend Mickey Markus (Ryan Kelly) and a pleasant southerner named Tommy Boatwright (Jonathan Seinen), Ned forms an organization to get the word out to the media, governments and the general public. Considered a bully by those who get in his way, he finds himself fighting a losing battle. The mayor won’t meet with them to discuss the issue, despite evidence that the disease exists and is spreading, the New York Times won’t write about it, and the gay community refuses to stop having sex. Even Ned’s friends accuse him of setting the gay cause back by suggesting that promiscuity is part of the problem. Meanwhile, people are dying, and Ned’s lover Felix Turner (Jeff Miller), a writer for the New York Times, has been diagnosed with the illness and is wasting away before his eyes.

The Normal Heart is a devastating true story that highlights the prejudice, ignorance and neglect that characterized America’s reaction at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Few people had the courage to speak about the issue at the time, for fear of coming out or being associated with this “gay disease,” leaving those effected to suffer in isolation. Ned’s character several though-provoking points throughout the show, including the lack of a visible gay role model to lead and organize the community into taking action. He often suggests that Bruce could be that figure, if he would publicly admit to the fact that he is gay. This issue is still relevant today, with bullying on the rise in schools, more gay leaders are being called upon to stand up and be visible.

Staged in the round, Studio 180′s gripping production features a talented ensemble with excellent performances by the leads. Wilson is endearing as the self-deprecating and increasingly outraged Ned Weeks; Happer gives a strong performance as the calm, collected, and fearful Bruce; Kelly’s Mickey comes undone in an alarming scene towards the end of the play; Seinen is perfectly sweet and serene as the nurturing Tommy; Orenstein’s Dr. Emma is so angry it hurts; and Miller gives the performance of the night as the dying Felix, triggering a guttural reaction in the audience.

This is theatre at its most effective. Get your tickets fast.

The Normal Heart runs until November 18 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sun, 2012-10-21 - Sun, 2012-11-18
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