“The Normal Heart,” which had its theatrical debut in 1985, was writer Larry Kramer’s detonation from the heart – a long anguished scream in the face of society’s indifference to the AIDS crisis.
Based on his experiences as one of the original founders of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center, Kramer was fighting his own private war -- and he was doing it on every front.
He wanted the New York Times to recognize that something serious and terrifying was happening in the gay community; He wanted the Reagan administration to start funding research that could identify the still unknown virus that was destroying a community; He wanted the Mayor of New York to start paying attention and he wanted to change the sexual behavior of the gay community, which he believed had led to the crisis.
For that, he was severely ostracized and kicked out of the organization he founded. He went on to create "Act Up"whose motto: Silence Equals Death came to be equated with the AIDS crisis.
The new production currently on Broadway, starring Joe Montello as writer Ned Weeks, John Benjamin Hickey as his lover Felix and Ellen Barkin as the polio-stricken Dr. Emma Brookner is searing. Barkin's anguished monologue, about the beautiful men dying despite her best efforts to treat them -- delivered in front of an indifferent NIH as she pleads for funding, stopped the show.
The title of the play comes from the poem, September 1, 1939, written by W.H. Auden. Here are some of its lines:
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
It’s been thirty years now since AIDS made its unholy entrance. Since that time there have been at least 75 million infections and 35 million deaths. And there's still no cure.
In a letter distributed after the show, Kramer, who is still enraged and who is still fighting, wrote this:
"Please know that AIDS is a worldwide plague...."
"Please know that after all this time the amount of money being spent to find a cure is still miniscule, still almost invisible, still impossible to locate in any national health budget, and still totally uncoordinated....
Please know that there is no one in charge of this plague. This is a war for which there is no general and for which there has never been a general. How can you win a war with noone in charge?...
Please know that beginning with Ronald Reagan (who would not say the word "AIDS" publically for seven years), every single president has said nothing and done nothing, or in the case of the current president, says the right things and then doesn't do them....
I have never seen such wrongs as this plague, in all its guises, represents and continues to say about us all."
If you live in New York City, go see "The Normal Heart".