'The Normal Heart' by Larry Kramer

Saint John Theatre Company

Courtesy of Saint John Theatre Company Facebook page

Aaron Kropf

Every once in a while a show of great significance comes along and tells a story of our past and future.

The Normal Heart is one such story.

The semi-autobiographical show tells one man’s story of love and loss at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America. Given that we are currently in Pride month is apropos that the Saint John Theatre Company presents their production of The Normal Heart during the last weekend of Pride month.

Larry Kramer’s wonderful script is a semi-autobiographical story of Ned (deftly performed by Peter Boyce) navigating the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Ned quickly loses many of his friends to a disease that few know little about, except for Emma. Emma is a doctor struggling to learn all she can about this mysterious illness that has infiltrated the gay community, making many men extremely ill ultimately resulting in their deaths. Soon a group is formed because of Ned’s dedication to getting the word out about this unknown disease with friends Bruce (Mariah Darling), Tommy (Joseph Debly) and a few others.

The conflict of the piece revolves around the best approach to getting the word out and how the community should curb the rapid rate with which the virus is spreading through the gay community.

The cast of this production of The Normal Heart is exceptional!

Peter Boyce’s stoic portrayal of Ned is a master class in taking on a character and finding those little eccentricities that really make a character come alive. To maintain a characterization like that while on stage for the bulk of the production is truly a pleasure to watch and is only topped by the range Boyce gives, particularly in the second half of the production.

Jillian Bonner’s Emma is another note worthy performance. Her perseverance in learning more about the mystery illness and concern for her patients is resplendent. Mariah Darling took on another of the production's most challenging roles. Darling deftly navigates Bruce’s struggle of being a leader yet keeping his sexuality from his employer. It’s really unfortunate that many people throughout the world still fear they will lose their livelihood should their sexuality be exposed, one of the many reasons 'The Normal Heart' continues to be a vital work for the stage.

There were a couple of challenges that should be overcome as the show runs until the 25th at the BMO Studio Theatre in Saint John. When an actor is to take on an accent it’s of the utmost importance that they maintain that accent throughout the whole production. If that cannot be done it really is best to drop the accent altogether
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A couple performers were a little stiff; perhaps it’s opening jitters but hopefully, they can iron out this issue during the remainder of the run. However, these two things shouldn’t stop anyone from getting a ticket and taking in such important theatrical work.

It was wise of director Matt Hamilton-Snow to keep a minimal set. A few tables, chairs, a desk, and side table moved around the stage to create new locations was great. And to keep the furniture primarily black and white allowed the script and actors to take centre stage. I also really like when a movie, tv show, or theatrical production shows photos of the real people at the end. I’m glad this was done for this production. This shed the light on those that were at the forefront of the fight to learn all that could be learned about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

'The Normal Heart' is so important because of the story it tells. I believe, it’s something that needs to be presented more than it is, and should be seen by more people.

This production is a seminal work of art told with the heart and conviction of a wonderful cast and artistic team.

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