There was this amazing moment on November 3rd, as Zeitgeist Stage Company's production of The Normal Heart began to unfold before me, when I closed my eyes and was magically transported to a tastefully bedecked loft apartment filled with homosexual men who were furiously and bitterly reading to me from a Wikipedia article about the gay plague. And when I opened my eyes (I unwittingly took a much needed power nap), I was overjoyed to learn that it wasn’t a dream, but a reality that would last for three seemingly boundless hours.
Apparently, in the 1980s, homosexual men were suffering from a nameless disease whereby they were rendered incapable of effectively applying stage makeup to their foreheads, necks, backs and feet. And for whatever reason, a hard core bull dyke physician in a fancy wheelchair (the appropriately cast Maureen Adduci) was doing her best to contain it. Queers were wandering aimlessly in and out of her office and then randomly dying. Most of the men who weren’t infected were considerate enough to wait for their “lover” to drop dead before moving on to another “lover” whom, I surmise, they met at the funeral or memorial service. Or at a bathhouse after the funeral or memorial service.
The angriest gay, a Jewish fella named Ned Weeks played by Bulgarian, Victor Shopov (who superbly channels William Shatner playing Hannibal Lecter), meets and falls in love with successful New York Times columnist, Felix Turner. Felix has an ex-wife, a son and a secret beach front property. The visibly epicene Joey Pelletier, who plays Felix, is utterly convincing as a well-to-do closeted man with a heterosexual past, especially during those moments when his voice achieves altitudes that NASA could only dream of achieving.
Ned Weeks is a loud mouthed activist who simultaneously enlists the help of and infuriates a group of venomous, backstabbing queens played by Mario Da Rosa Jr., Mike Meadors, Kyle Cherry, and Mikey Diloreto. A particular standout in this fey bunch was Diloreto who completely bulldozes what little scenery there is with a temper tantrum to rival that of Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest. He is, without a doubt, clawing for an Elliot Norton Award. And judging from past winners, I'd say he deserves it. Likewise notable is Meaders whose portrayal of a genteel southern transgender man named Tommy was spot on.
Also key to the plot (defined contextually in this review as “heavy download of stats”) is the strained relationship between Ned and his brother Ben, played by Peter Brown. Ned desperately needs Ben’s financial and positional influence to launch his crusade, but Ben can only offer emotional support and expert advice... which apparently makes Ben a shitty, shitty sibling. Brown just doesn't get it. His portrayal is so authentic and so instinctive that the unforced tears flowing from his eyes seem to fight against the “act the shit out of everything” motif that had clearly been established by director, David Miller. How disappointed Miller must be in Brown’s portrayal.
Kudos, however, to lighting designer, Michael C. Wonson, who provided the entire audience with complimentary Lasik surgery throughout the performance. And special credit goes to costumer, Meredith Magoun, whose clothing was undoubtedly not modern. Lastly, I cannot congratulate projection designer, Michael Flowers, enough for his impressive use of a large menacing light bulb in the "basement scene" and for effectively showing the audience, via an 84"x 84" functioning heart monitor, that Felix actually passed away. How else would we know?
If overwrought is your thing, then do not miss this epic production. Click here to purchase tickets.