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The Normal Heart Goes to Washington
Larry Kramer's Tony Award-Winning Play to Coincide With the International AIDS Conference

By Jeff Berry

May/June 2012

Jim Parsons and Lee Pace in the 2011 Broadway productions of The Normal Heart.

Jim Parsons and Lee Pace in the 2011 Broadway productions of The Normal Heart.

The national tour of the Broadway production of Larry Kramer's Tony Award-winning play The Normal Heart launches in Washington, D.C. in June, with the end of the play's run coinciding with AIDS 2012, the biennial international AIDS conference, this year held in D.C. July 22-27.

The winner of three Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Revival of a Play, The Normal Heart follows the sexual politics of New York during the initial AIDS crisis as a tight-knit group of friends refuse to bury the truth of an unspoken epidemic. Larry Kramer, the co-founder of both ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City, wrote the play while he was in Washington, D.C. following the devastating experience of watching many of his friends succumb to AIDS.

Arena Stage will produce the first D.C.-area professional production of The Normal Heart at the prestigious Kreeger Theater. In an interview with Positively Aware, Edgar Dobie, Arena Stage's Executive Producer, admits that there was a lot of serendipity involved with the timing of the play.

"When we got it all sorted out," says Dobie, "Daryl Roth, who is the commercial producer, said 'it's as if it was always meant to be.' " Molly Smith, the theater's artistic director, saw the play on Broadway and was deeply affected by it, according to Dobie. When a play which had been initially slated to run suddenly dropped out, there was an opportunity to bring The Normal Heart to Arena Stage.

This production of the play has been sanctioned as an official event of AIDS 2012, which is the first international AIDS conference being held in the U.S. since President Obama lifted the 22-year travel ban against HIV-positive individuals entering the U.S. More than 20,000 delegates will descend upon the nation's capital for the conference, as well as national and international press, during the final week of the play's run. But even beyond that, says Dobie, it was seen as an opportunity to engage with the community for the entire seven-week run on what is still a very important story.

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When asked about the play's significance some 25 years after it was first written, Dobie simply states, "It's timeless." There was definitely a tide that turned at some point during the course of the epidemic, continues Dobie, "but it's only because of the work of advocates and activists like Larry Kramer, who were passionate and managed to sustain that passion in their work and in their activism over the last several decades."

The production is a replica of the original Broadway show, says Dobie, including director George C. Wolfe and designers David Rockwell (sets), and Martin Pakledinaz (costumes). "Obviously it's moving from city to city, so it's something that had to be made 'troupe-able' as they say." At press time, the show was being cast from New York City, and the casting director had reached out to original cast members, some of whom had expressed interest, though maybe in different roles. However, Dobie says that as a regional theater, they felt it important to try to include some regional actors in the play as well.

"It feels good to know that the Arena Stage has the capacity, and has the relationships with the artists, to deliver something as important as this to our community."

The Normal Heart runs June 8 - July 29, 2012, at the Kreeger Theater, 1101 Sixth St., SW, Washington, D.C. For tickets call (202) 488-3300 or go to www.arenastage.org. For information about AIDS 2012 or to register, go to www.AIDS2012.org.


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