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“The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer was first performed in 1985 at the Public Theater and produced by visionary leader and founder Joseph Papp. The play revolutionized the theater and challenged society; it forced people to have a dialogue about sexuality, love, discrimination and promiscuity, a dialogue where no one was safe from being at fault and everyone was guilty for not doing enough.

When “The Normal Heart” begins in 1981, forty-one men have died from what would eventually be called HIV/AIDS. Today the figures are horrifying: there have been over 35 million deaths and 75 million infections. 

On stage, three clinically white, sterile walls define the world where the story unfolds. Their coldness and massive size, at first glance, is very fitting for a play about the first few months of the HIV/AIDS epidemic when no one knew what was killing gay men or how the disease was being transmitted. As we ride the emotional rollercoaster of this magnificent play, the walls begin to lose their aloofness and transform themselves into the tombs of all the men lost during the first years of the epidemic.

The rage, fear and injustice accompanying the deaths of the stricken are brought to life by the passionately searing honest diatribes of the main character Ned played by Joe Montello. Montello embodies Ned with pitch perfect emotional precision and exacting humor. Mr. Montello is a titan in this role, but he could not be as wonderful as he is without his magnificent supporting cast which features pivotal and supporting roles played by Ellen Barkin, Patrick Breen, Mark Harelik, John Benjamin Hickey, Luke Macfarlane, Lee Pace, Jim Parsons, Richard Topol and Wayne Alan Wilcox.

Every character in this play is complex, real and very flawed, just as we are all in real life; and Ned might be the most flawed of them all. Mr. Montello’s Ned creeps under your skin and without warning lights a fire under your seat to demand action, investigations and a cure to the plague that is HIV/AIDS.

The entire company gives a great performance that is bold, convincing and raw.

Through July 10 at the Golden Theatre. Scenes of the production after the break.

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Actress Ellen Barkin in a scene from “The Normal Heart.”

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Scene from “The Normal Heart.”

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Scene from “The Normal Heart.”

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Scene from “The Normal Heart.”

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