Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Normal Heart—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

“Love is Love is Love is Love…”

This classic drama about the AIDS crisis of the 80’s is written by Larry Kramer and directed by Jason A. England.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave., just off Lombard (limited parking in the Church lot across the street), through March 26th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

The AIDS epidemic could have been greatly reduced when it became apparent that we had a crisis on our hands in the early 80’s.  But since it only seemed to be spread in the Gay community, then it was swept under the carpet like so much dust.  It was also a life style that much of society was not prepared to recognize, lest they be deemed a “closet” Gay.  The same held true for politicians and the government when trying to find monies and support.  I suppose they figured if you just closed your eyes to it, it would go away.

Also, there were those that felt that being Gay was a disease and could be cured by prayer and pain (just recently a “camp” leader was sentenced to prison for running such a place).  Some in high government offices still believe this is true.  And there were the extreme “Bible-thumpers” that believed this was a punishment by God toward Gays for sinning against him.  These holier-than-thou personages picked and chose passages from the Good Book that fit their own belief system and then tailored that toward their own personal agenda.  They must have forgotten the passages that read, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” or “Love thy neighbor!”

But, back again to the 80’s.  It seems that Ned (Marvin Gray), an outspoken writer with the NY Times, has noticed that many of his friends are getting ill with a disease that the medical profession, including Dr. Brookner (Jennifer Clevenger), is unidentified and, therefore, cannot be treated by conventional methods.  He also notices that it seems to be hitting just those that lead a Gay lifestyle, like his friend Bruce (Michael J. Teufel), a V.P. of a bank and Mickey (Ronald A. Jorgensen), a Health writer for the Times.  All Gay but only Ned is “out.”

Ned enlists the aid of his straight brother, Ben (David Alan Morrison), a lawyer, to work on the legal end of things but he won’t commit to putting his name as a supporter of their cause.  Ned also forms a committee with his friends, Tommy (Greg Shilling) and Grady (Josiah Green), to solicit funds and spread the word.  The furthest they can get with the mayor’s office is a basement-room meeting with one of his assistants, Hiram (Kris Wallsmith), also a “closet” Gay, but with only minor success.  Meanwhile, Ned has also met the love-of-his-life in Felix (Johnnie Torres), who may become part of the statistics in the long run.  The story is an emotional roller-coaster and a gut-wrenching experience and should be seen/heard to get the full picture.

It should be noted that the Theatre Arts have created a sanctuary in their ongoing Ghostlight Project for all those who seek a safe haven from persecution:  http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2017/01/ghostlight-projectportland.html  https://www.facebook.com/TheatreReviewsByDennisSparks/   Also there is the Cascade Aids Project for those wanting to volunteer, just talk, get tested and/or donate to the Cause:  www.cascadeaids.org

The performances of all these actors are searing and leave one with no refuge to hide from the experience and responsibility that is presented.  “Attention must be paid!”  The director has created a first-rate cast and left “no stone unturned” in reaching for one’s very essence, and then pulling it forward so that the dilemma is fully realized.  Every one of these actors is fully vested in the message of getting the word out and it shows in their “performances.”  I believe we all have the God-given right to Live as we choose and be Happy.  In this day and age, those rights seem to be diminishing, and so we should be vigilant to any restrictions placed on us that are simply prejudicial because of our beliefs, cultures, sexual orientations, et. al.  We are all human but we should also try to be humane, as well.

I recommend this show but, be aware, it is much more than entertainment, as the subject matter is heart-breaking and deeply personal.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.