“The Normal Heart” is a play about social, cultural, political, moral and medical events, connected with the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, and people’s reaction or lack of reaction to it, in the early 1980s.
But the script by Larry Kramer is also a great play, as an Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre production of it made clear, in a Saturday afternoon preview at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
Directed by Rene Morenot, it was performed in 16 scenes, projected on a side television screen at Civic Center’s Freede Little Theatre, on a modern, minimal set designed by Amanda Foust.
Helping to create the mood of the period, too, were music, lighting and a wall of background imagery, suggesting the end of the disco-dominated ‘70s and the beginning of the Reagan ‘80s.
Jonathan Beck Reed was fiery yet deeply sympathetic as AIDS activist and author-surrogate Ned Weeks, who finally finds his true love, only to lose him to the illness in the moving finale.
Pacing himself and avoiding overplaying the juicy role, Reed got across both the energy and “colossal ego” of a writer who could be his friends’ and his own worst enemy, as well as that of his adversaries.
Matthew Alvin Brown gave a light, well-modulated performance as Felix Turner, a lifestyle writer for The New York Times, who prefers the good life to the good fight, until he falls in love with Weeks.
Drew Pollock brought more than rugged good looks to Bruce Niles, a bank vice president and ex-Green Beret who doesn’t want to be as outspoken or “out” as Weeks, but has his own inner strength.
Particularly powerful was a scene in which Pollock as Niles described the incontinence of his dying lover on a flight back to Phoenix to see his mother, and the eventual disposal of his ashes.
Michael Corolla as Mickey Marcus was no less intense, venting his frustration at the uncertainties of the AIDS crisis and being summoned back for a city meeting that gets cancelled from vacation in Brazil.
Stacey Logan did a superb job of conveying the care and frustrations of a physician, a polio survivor in a wheelchair, who is dubbed “Dr. Death” for her unstinting commitment to her AIDS patients.
Brian Hamilton brought southern, subversive humor to Tommy Boatwright, and Terry Veal was excellent as the New York mayor’s gay aide, who suggests that anger may not be the best way to influence his boss.
Even more crucial was Michael Jones’ low key but heartfelt portrayal of Weeks’ straight, Jewish, lawyer brother, who resolves their differences and accepts him as an equal, in the play’s cathartic final scene.
Exposing its characters’ hearts in terms almost guaranteed to touch spectators’ hearts, the R-rated CityRep version of the play, which won three Tony Awards for best revival in 2011, is highly recommended.
It will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16; at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17; and at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 18.
Tickets are $35 for evening performances and $30 for matinees, with students, teachers and members of the military admitted for $8.
“Call 848-3761 or 297-2264 or visit the website at www.cityrep.com for information.