SJTC Performs LGBTQ 'The Normal Heart' for Pride Month
Tags: Pride Month, LGBTQ, 2SLGBTQIA+, Saint John Theatre Company, SJTC, BMO Studio Theatre, Larry Kramer, Matt Hamilton Snow, Peter Boyce, Jillian Bonner, Johnathan Bruce, Mariah Darling, Joseph Debly, Ben Geurts, James Lamey, Cameron Patterson, Nathan Spavold
Photo credit: Drew Murdock/Saint John Theatre Company. James Lamey and Peter Boyce.
Well, if you haven’t made it to The Normal Heart yet, act fast! There is still one night left to grab your tickets and see what everyone is talking about.
The Normal Heart was written by Larry Kramer, playwright and AIDS activist, in 1985.
When Larry Kramer died in May 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “I’m very sad that we lost him. He’s just an extraordinary man. He changed, totally, by his extraordinary, iconoclastic and theatrical ways of doing things, he changed the relationship between the afflicted community with a given disease, and the scientific and regulatory community that has such a great impact on them.”
The Normal Heart, a semi-autobiographical play, is about the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in New York City from 1981 to 1984. “The Normal Heart is a dramatization of the individuals who started the organization Act Up Speak Out and Gay Men’s Health Crisis.”, says Director Matt Hamilton-Snow.
The lead character, Ned Weeks, is a gay man in New York City, based on the author Larry Kramer who sets out on a truth crusade after seeing many of his friends die to the virus. Ned was played by Peter Boyce.
Photo credit: Drew Murdock/Saint John Theatre Company. Peter Boyce.
Boyce does a superb job of playing this loud and loveable ‘lemon’ – a nickname given to Ned by his older straight brother, Ben, who was played by Nathan Spavold.
Photo credit: Drew Murdock/Saint John Theatre Company. Nathan Spavold and Peter Boyce.
Ben is a lawyer. Ned continually seeks his help in raising awareness of the AIDS crisis. Ben provides pro-bono legal help but won’t agree to attach his name to the cause. And this is precisely what it needs.
The Normal Heart brings to light the political side of health research and funding. We see the rest of the world look the other way and downplay the increasing number of deaths in the gay community, simply because they could. It only affected marginalized folks. In the beginning, at least.
But we see in The Normal Heart how identities are intersectional. There were many gay men in powerful roles, but they were afraid of speaking up – of the societal fallout from coming out – losing their jobs, or worse. This is why Ben won’t attach his name to support the cause in a public fashion; he’s also afraid of the consequences of being grouped with the gays.
Photo credit: Drew Murdock/Saint John Theatre Company. Jillian Bonner.
One of my favourite characters in the play was Dr. Emma Brookner, played by Jillian Bonner. Y’all know I love a fierce female role and Bonner was bringing it! We first meet Dr. Brookner in the beginning of the play. She is wheelchair-bound due to polio, which she came down with months before the vaccine was announced. Emma is not a member of the LGBTQ community but she grieves alongside them, as she treats all the cases. She, of course, loses the majority of her patients.
She acted as a mentor, of sorts. to Ned. She pushed him to become a vocal leader for his community, not that he needed much help with that. She was the first to say that AIDS might be spread through sex; and she had the hard job of telling that to Ned. She moved Ned to warn his community – a reality which they largely denied in the beginning.
AIDS came around right after the Sexual Revolution, when gay men were beginning to shed the shame associated with their sexuality. This made Ned’s fear-infused messages of abstinence unpopular.
As mentioned earlier, Ned founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Act Up Speak Out - two organizations which tried to address the crisis.
In The Normal Heart we see this conflict on the Board of Directors right from the get go. Ned, of course, should be president, but he is seen as too political – too blunt. The committee opts to elect Bruce, played by Mariah Darling, instead. He is more handsome, more liked, and more conservative. He knows how to pander and sweet talk for the betterment of the cause, and he often clashes with Ned.
Mariah gave an outstanding performance, as did Joseph Debly, who played Tommy, another activist.
Photo credit: Drew Murdock/Saint John Theatre Company. Mariah Darling.
This talented 18-year-old Debly, put on a convincing southern accent. His character did a good job smoothing out some of the rough edges between Ned and Bruce. Cameron Patterson played Ned’s partner and journalist, Felix.
Photo credit: Drew Murdock/Saint John Theatre Company. Joseph Debly.
Photo credit: Drew Murdock/Saint John Theatre Company. Cameron Patterson and Peter Boyce.
Patterson played an endearing journalist who becomes Ned’s partner. He, too, develops AIDS. Patterson was an incredible Felix.
Jonathan Bruce took on two roles: David and Hiram. Ben Geurts did too; he played Craig and Grady. James Lamey played Mickey. The entire cast and crew did an incredible job.
As you can imagine, it’s a pretty sad play. There were certainly several laughs throughout, but at the end, there were audible sniffles as some audience members cried.
On my way out of the BMO Studio Theatre, I heard a couple behind me say “That was so sad!”, and another in front exclaim, “That was so good! I’m glad we came.”
You can catch this show one more time, Saturday June 25, 2022, at 7:30pm, doors open at 7pm. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students.
This incredible production was sponsored by TD, GNB, Government of Canada, Chroma NB, Pannell Family Foundation, BMO Financial Group and Sussex Area Community Foundation.