by Lorie Lewis Ham
This past weekend I saw The Normal Heart on stage in Fresno, presented by StageWorks Fresno. This play is one of the most moving plays I have ever seen and something I encourage everyone to go see. I knew going in that it would be good, StageWorks has never disappointed, but I had no idea just how good.
The Normal Heart is a largely autobiographical play by Larry Kramer. It focuses on the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984, as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks, the gay founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. Ned prefers loud public confrontations to the calmer, more private strategies favored by his associates, friends, and closeted lover Felix Turner. Their differences lead to nearly constant arguments that threaten to undermine their goals. It also shows the personal toll that this disease takes on all their lives.
The play reveals things about the beginnings of this crisis that I never knew, and I think that many of us don’t know. It was eye opening, sad, and a piece of history that should be better known–that should, I believe, be found in our history books.
Not only is the show itself amazing, but the acting is phenomenal–some of the Valley’s top actors grace the stage in this production. Terry Lewis plays Ned with passion and an intensity of emotion that can’t help but move the audience. Chris Mangels plays Ned’s lawyer brother Ben with a quiet conservative controlled tone through much of the show, helping to make the more emotional scenes with Terry even more powerful and the contrast between the two brothers very evident. These two work off of each other perfectly. Their scenes were some of my favorite, not only because of their skill as actors, but also because they were so poignant and touching.
A young actor who has greatly impressed me in the shows I’ve seen him in so far is Ryan Torres–he plays one of Ned’s friends, Mickey Marcus, and there is one scene in particular where he was simply brilliant. Dillon Morgan plays Ned’s lover Felix and their relationship is so sweet. Diane Fidalgo plays Dr. Emma Brookner, the only woman in the cast. Diane is tasked with a ton of dialogue, and a very important role in the story since Emma was one of their only advocate’s in the medical field. The rest of the cast are Bob Creasy, Dylan Jack Curtis, Auggie Hernandez, David Marinovich, and Nicholas “Phoenix” Rodriguez.
Everyone in this show did a wonderful job, with very emotional and difficult material. Kudos to director J. Daniel Herring for bringing this all together so perfectly. I also applaud StageWorks artistic director Joel Abels for bringing such an important piece of theatre to our Valley. I love theatre of all kinds, but the shows that I love the most are those that move me, make me feel, and make me think, and Normal Heart definitely did all of that. This show is beautiful, heart wrenching, sad, informative, and wonderful all at the same time–and there are even little moments of humor. Be warned, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
The Normal Heart plays through September 28 at the Bonner Auditorium, Fresno Art Museum,2233 N. 1st Street, Fresno. You can purchase tickets by calling the Box Office at 559-289-6622 or by going to their website: www.stageworksfresno.com.
Check out more local arts and entertainment articles in KRL’s A & E section.