Fredonia theatre department offers timely take on ‘The Normal Heart’

Doug Osborne-Coy
patient and care givers

The Department of Theatre and Dance production of “The Normal Heart” features (from left) Jack Bausch, as Ned Weeks; Michael Morrissey as Felix Turner and Gemma Vodacek as Dr. Emma Brookner.

While it was written almost four decades ago, Professor Paul W. Mockovak thinks Larry Kramer’s 1985 play “The Normal Heart” still carries a very relevant message.

Mockovak, who directs the Department of Theatre and Dance production as part of the Walter Gloor Mainstage Series, describes “The Normal Heart” as a “very compelling and deeply human” work that balances the need for information, activism and action.

“The Normal Heart,” Mockovak explained, is set during an outbreak of a then-unknown virus (which ultimately became known as HIV) when there was silence and inaction. Against this background is a “moving love story of two of the leading characters.”

“It is timely in that we are currently in the throes of a virus causing mayhem in many of our established routines and practices,” Mockovak said. “Then, at the early stage, no one knew what it was, how it was transmitted, how to protect one’s self etc. Combined with a different perspective on the LGBTQ+ community then, which was one essentially of silence, the need to speak out, develop public awareness etc. resonates strongly. As a love story we become very involved and engaged in the relationships between lovers and family and their ultimate resolution through loss or reconnection.”

The Mainstage production runs from Dec. 2 to 5 in the Alice E. Bartlett Theatre. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, 3 and 4, with 2 p.m. matinees on Dec. 4 and 5.

Tickets are available through the Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center, by phone at (716) 673-3501 or online. The production contains mature themes, language and partial nudity.

“One element I find compelling is that we are presenting in the Bartlett Theatre,” Mockovak said. “This allows a very up close and personal experience, with distance protocols in place between the actors and the audience. It will create a much more intimate and immediate experience.” 

Even more important, the director noted, is the fact that part of the scenic design concept is to honor the memory and to memorialize those who have died of AIDS and related complications with more than 1,500 names.

“This includes celebrities and public figures, but most are ordinary men and women from different and diverse communities whose only shared experience unfortunately happens to be this disease,” Mockovak said.

“This includes celebrities and public figures, but most are ordinary men and women from different and diverse communities whose only shared experience unfortunately happens to be this disease.” - Director Paul  Mockovak

The director hopes the experience of seeing the Mainstage production will be a cathartic one for audiences.

“Playwright Larry Kramer’s words are powerful,” Mockovak said. “I am hoping experience is one that leaves the audience moved, enlightened, and also feeling a sense humanity for the stories that are being told through the work of our very talented actors and design/production team. All are very committed to this title making the process seamless.”

The original production of “The Normal Heart” opened on April 21, 1985, at the Public Theater in New York City. It was produced by Joseph Papp. The performance was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

A Broadway revival opened April 27, 2011, at the John Golden Theatre in New York City; it was produced by Daryl Roth, Paul Boskind and Martian Entertainment; in association with Gregory Rae and Jayne Baron Sherman/Alexander Fraser. The performance was directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe.

The 2011 production won the Tony Award  for “Best Revival of a Play,” the Drama Desk Award  for “Outstanding Revival of a Play,” the Drama League Award for “Distinguished Revival of a Play” and the Outer Critic’s Circle Award for outstanding revival.

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