The Normal Heart | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Normal Heart 

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THE NORMAL HEART, Ulysses Theatre Company, at Shattered Globe Theatre. Unlike his inept 1988 farce Just Say No, Larry Kramer's 1985 masterwork--a memoir of the early days of the AIDS crisis--refuses to date. Rooted in the credible crises of believable characters, it remains a call to arms against government apathy and an antidote to the self-doubt of reluctant reformers. And as Stephen Rader's urgent staging conveys, the emergency is far from over: the actors cover a chalkboard with updates on the failure of the new AIDS medicines and warnings about gays returning to unsafe sex.

Kramer, here represented by activist Ned Weeks, roots his story in the turbulent time when gays discovered that sexual freedom--or promiscuity--had sped the virus (Kramer's attack on the bathhouses made him an instant pariah). Adding to the burden of Ned's conscience-driven attacks on Mayor Koch and his own organization, Gay Men's Health Crisis, are his private ordeals with an initially hostile brother and a lover stricken with AIDS.

Though sometimes skittish in the strident scenes, Michael Ryczek roots Ned in a bedrock decency that explains and excuses his excesses. As his lover, Patrick Rybarczyk conveys the panic of embattled innocence. And in a powerful cameo, Trey Maclin plays an AIDS activist who finds himself beset by "bereavement overload." Fortunately, the play is not. --Lawrence Bommer

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