Whenever I write a review or an article for a theater show, I try to look for an angle that will make it stand out or different from the rest. I try to be reflective about the manner by which the show echoes or articulates the sentiments and issues that are often overlooked in our social media-frenzied society. But this time, I will make an exception. Because the message and ideology behind The Normal Heart is clear, and to veer away from that for the sake of uniqueness is a disservice to the show and the efforts behind its staging.
Long before it was popularized by the HBO film, I had been watching clips of the Broadway staging of The Normal Heart on YouTube. From the clips alone, I felt how powerful the material is. Then came the HBO film adaptation. I saw it and while it was strong and gripping, I felt the medium made the material too distant, robbing it of its potency. Fortunately, The Necessary Theater’s staging of The Normal Heart proves that some materials are best set on stage. To say that the show exudes passion seems like an understatement. The show was compelling, indignant and even vindictive of how we, as a society, have become content on being backward for the sake of comfort.
Written by Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart follows Ned Weeks as he mobilizes an organization to initiate awareness, education, and support to those who were afflicted by HIV when it first came out in New York in the 1980s. It is a massive and profound fight against indifference and fear. To make things worse, that struggle is further entangled in the intricate and disgusting web of politics and misguided sense of self-preservation. It is interesting to note that the struggles of the LGBT community in the 1980s are somehow, if not completely, the same as the state of struggle in the Philippines today. Here in the Philippines where there are over 20 newly diagnosed cases of HIV daily, we seem to be imprisoned by ignorance and fear, ultimately robbing those who are afflicted with the support and acceptance that they need.
Faith in Bart
I have always envisioned Bart Guingona in the role of Ned Weeks. He has the capacity to eloquently articulate the building rage in his performances. His version of Ned Weeks; however, seemed to be holding back. I have always thought that the role of Ned require a steady balance of fiery anger and delicate vulnerability and frustration. It isn’t easy to pull off, but I have complete faith in Bart that he will find that balance come opening night and sustain it throughout its weekend run. Topper Fabregas, Nor Domingo, and Richard Cunanan shine as Felix Turner, Mickey Marcus, and Ben Weeks, respectively. One has to watch out for Domingo’s heartbreaking monologue of resignation in the second act.
I would talk more about the technical aspect of the show, but the reality is that it has had its flaws during the press preview. And quite honestly, these can easily be fixed once the show formally opens. Nevertheless, this is not a time to review and critique a show.
It is easy to say that certain aspects of the show are good and bad. It is easy to critique. But there are moments when one has to be immersed on the idea that the show espouses and as a writer, thr role changes for mere observer to an active player in trumpeting that message and inviting people to witness the powerful show that it really is – regardless of its shortcomings.
And so this is where this essay leads me: an appeal to our humanity. we are all blanketed by the disgusting veil of ignorance and apathy to know that there are actual people suffering from this incurable disease. In the process, we neglect our brothers and sisters. No, it is not pity that they want. It is acceptance and support. This is an issue that transcends gender politics; this is an issue of humanity. We are imprisoned by the narrow-minded stereotypes and baseless fear. This is not the time for blame tossing either, as each one of us is accountable for one another. And yes, it is true that there are other issues that may be more urgent or detrimental today, but we never have to be myopic on the ongoing struggles of humanity, more so of our fellow countrymen. We can expand our horizons and do more.
In the end, The Normal Heart is not just a show that you can go out and watch. It challenges our position in the society, which quite frankly we all need at a time of backwardness and narrow mindedness. It is compelling, heart-wrenching, and important. It asks questions and it challenges us to think and even start a conversation. For what it’s worth, this is indeed necessary theater.
The Normal Heart runs from July 3 to 5 at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater, RCBC Plaza Makati. For tickets, please visit Ticketworld at ticketworld.com.ph.