Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Normal Heart put some things in perspective


I saw Arena Stage's production of The Normal Heart last week, and it put a lot of things in perspective. I also couldn't take my arts management lens of, so I actually blogged from that point of view at my J Street Jr blog. This one's a little more personal.

First of all, there were definitely a lot of tears involved. Had to make a run for some napkins or paper towels at intermission because you just knew Act II was going to bring on the water works. But I digress.

The picture to the right is of patches from the AIDS quilt. And, if you aren't familiar with
 The Normal Heart, here is Arena Stage's blurb for it:

Tony winner George C. Wolfe, (Angels in America) directs Larry Kramer’s Tony Award-winning Broadway production of The Normal Heart. Fueled by love, anger, hope and pride, a circle of friends struggle to contain the mysterious disease ravaging New York's gay community. Dismissed by politicians, frustrated by doctors and fighting with each other, their differences could tear them apart - or change the world. Hailed by critics as “riveting” (Newsday) and “a great night at the theater” (New York Times), Kramer's masterwork is an outrageous and totally unforgettable look at sexual politics during the AIDS crisis and remains one of the theater’s most powerful evenings ever.
So that being said, here are some things it put in perspective for me.

The first, being an LGBT person in their early thirties, not only did I think of the world, the time that these men lived in, but I realized that this was also the exact same time my parents began to raise me in this world. I was born in 1981. And, for better or worse, this was probably one of the formative things they learned about gay men, which explained their concern for my health when I came out. Don't get me wrong, it in no way excuses their past ignorance. At the same time if that's all they knew, then that's really all they could speak to. But that was over a decade ago and is all water far under the bridge.

Another thing it put into perspective was conversation I have had with many of my LGBT friends, talks about Pride, discussions about how we represent ourselves to each other and the public, trying to agree on caring just enough for those who cared too much and those who didn't care at all. It's funny how fresh and immediate something like that can seem when you're talking with your friends and acquaintances. Then you watch something like this, a play that was written decades ago, to realize that the only thing new is the current reiteration of an aged discussion. And this topic came up in much the same way it does now, does our image work for or against the things we fight for.

One of the final things the play put into context was how far we've come on one hand, but how much more work there is to do. I can't even count how many times I've had a friend or an ex come to me to tell me they're positive, older, younger, doesn't really matter.  And with the DC area having a rate higher than the national average...

It's said best in a letter from the playwright, Larry Kramer, which is handed out after you leave the theatre. This is still an epidemic, in the DC area and all around the world. That is grossly oversimplifying the letter handed out, as there is much depth and a lot of weight behind his words.

Arena Stage has partnered with multiple organizations, including the AIDS Quilt, to give context to the piece, as well as continue the conversation after the curtain. In fact, throughout July, there are a series of panels in addition to other events.

That's about it. If you're in the DC area, I highly recommend seeing this production before it closes, July 29.

- JR

P.S. Check out a first look at The Normal Heart at Arena Stage, below.

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