Yesterday was an “HIV day” for me. In the morning, I went to the CCP to talk with some artists for an upcoming group exhibit on the virus (I was horrendously late, though, but made it in time to still speak with them) and then, in the evening, I went to RCBC to watch The Normal Heart as staged by The Necessary Theatre and Actor’s Actors, Inc.
Here’s an article I wrote about The Normal Heart: Why You Should Go See “The Normal Heart” During Its One-Week Run (link).I’ve actually read the play of The Normal Heart before and we’ve read it in my play reading group last year and I have to say that I’m not a big fan of this piece. Written in the 80s by Larry Kramer, the play is an almost auto-biographical account of Larry Kramer’s activist life and the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York in 1981. Reading the play, I found it to be too literal and a little self-serving. It raised very good points on both ends of the spectrum but it was clearly favouring one side over another. It’s the set up of the protagonist’s dilemma and I find that the protagonist, Ned Weeks, to be insufferable.
Even in our cold reading of the play in our theater group, The Normal Heart just couldn’t find its… well, heart. It was too angry, too deep-set in Larry Kramer’s anger and frustration. I thought it was counter-productive for the advocacy work he was trying to do.
And then, last night, I saw the play and I was bowled over. Tsunami levels, really. Halfway through the first act, I was crying, deeply affected by what was transpiring on stage. The second act left me broken.
The Normal Heart, I realised, must be staged for the full effect of the writing to come out. It’s not one of those plays that just jump out from the page. There are many plays like that. You are reading it and you are, like, “This is so good. They should stage this.” It’s not like that. It doesn’t read as well as it does when it is performed.
And this production has an excellent cast that really just brings it to where it has to be.
The worst part is that the world presented — New York in 1981 — is just as chaotic and as frustrating as the world of Manila in 2015 with regards to the HIV epidemic. As clueless and as hopeless as the battle seems in 1981 New York is exactly how it is now in the Philippines.
And this is not my world. The play tackles so many issues: homosexuality, responsibility of (and for) each other, love, health, awareness, morality, society, stigma and discrimination. It tackles it so vividly that it is so palpable in our present day and the truth of the matter is that these are things that I see and observe but do not experience.
Again, questions of “why have I been spared from all of this?” start rushing and I’m racked with unbelievable guilt.
Why have I not met any of these challenges and difficulties? Why am I the lucky one? Why must it be easy for me?
Questions of whether I deserve this or not come gushing out from my centre and I know that that would lead to… something awful. I can’t and shouldn’t go there. But that’s what the play brings out in me. That’s why it was so painful to watch. Because it’s a real world but not a world that I exist in.
The play invariably centers not on the virus but on what we do to each other; what we do to ourselves. HIV is the focal point but it is also the metaphor: when we do not care about the people we are with, when we don’t care about ourselves, when we are scared of the truth and refuse to face it, then we are killing ourselves.
In this case, literally.
Watch the play. It is only running for one weekend. You do not want to miss it. It will move you, for sure.