Arts & Entertainment
2 min

A tale of two Normal Hearts

Raving Theatre says AIDS stories still need to be told

James Sandman Wilson plays Ned Weeks, and Joel Semande plays Felix Turner in Raving Theatre’s production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. Credit: Raving Theatre

While HBO is poised to release Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy’s small-screen adaptation of Larry Kramer’s 1980s AIDS drama The Normal Heart, starring Julie Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and Jim Parsons, Vancouver’s Raving Theatre will present the original stage production just two weeks before the television movie debuts.

Calling it the “biggest labour of love” of his career in an interview with Entertainment Weekly late last year, Murphy said the play is as much a civil rights story as an AIDS story. He also called it a great love story, something Raving Theatre’s David Blue echoes.

“The love story between Ned and Felix is so strong,” Blue says. “Ned alienates himself from so many of the people he loves, but we see the difference that Felix makes in his life and how that relationship changes him.”

Kramer wrote The Normal Heart, which is set at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in New York between 1981 and 1984, after a visit to Germany’s Dachau concentration camp. Seeing a parallel between the lack of action by Germany and other nations to stop Dachau and the American government and gay community’s lack of reaction to the AIDS crisis, Kramer stepped out of his self-imposed retirement to write the play. In it, he explores the struggles of AIDS activists at the beginning of the pandemic trying to get the message out to the gay community and to an indifferent government and media. 

The Normal Heart marks the first time Raving Theatre has tackled a show about AIDS, something Blue says was deliberate.

“When we started 10 years ago, almost every other gay theatre company and two-thirds of all gay movies were about AIDS,” he says. “There were other stories out there that needed to be told, and it is almost the exact opposite now.”

Calling it the anti-thesis of their last production, the fluffy My Big Gay Italian Wedding, Blue says it was time to get a little more serious to finish their anniversary season.

“We wanted to do something poignant and serious to contrast that show,” he explains. “It reminds us where we came from and shows a younger generation just how we survived and what we had to go through. So many young people today think of AIDS the same way they do any other controllable disease and not a plague that decimated our community.”