Timeline Theatre Company is one of my favorite troupes. Their productions are sparkling, thought provoking and of course historical. They have been very busy of late and as the need arises have opted to use a second venue to ensure Chicago audiences get the opportunity to see their mainstage productions ( at the Wellington location which is currently “A Raisin In The Sun”), so “The Normal Heart” written by Larry Kramer is being performed at Stage 773 located at 1225 West Belmont. Directed by Nick Bowling on a set designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge ( who also did the lighting), “The Normal Heart” exposes us to the history of AIDS as it was first seen and somewhat ignored nt eh early 1980’s. It was happening, but no one in the “straight” world wanted to make note of it, figuring that if left unspoken, it would somehow go away.
In our story,Ned Weeks ( a solid performance by David Cromer of a difficult character, indeed) an activist takes on the mission of making the public aware of the “disease” and forming an organization so that those afflicted can be educated and possibly cured. Men are falling to the illness and death at numbers that are astounding. For two and a half hours of chilling story telling, we bear witness to the ups and downs of the men involved in trying to get help for those in need as well as to make the population, straight and homosexual aware of this disease and how it spreads. There is also a female doctor, a marvelous woman, Dr. Emma Boone ( a sensational performance by the always reliable Mary Beth Fisher), who has overcome Polio to the point that she can get more accomplished from her wheelchair then many can from the boardroom.
It is the all star cast that truly overcomes a script that could easily be trimmed in many ways. Try ti imagine a stage filled with actors such as Cromer and Fisher and then add to the mix Marc Grapey as Ned’s brother/attorney,Patrick Andrews as Felix Turner ( Ned’s lover) and Alex Weisman,Stephen Rader, Nik Kourtis, Joel Gross and Stephen Cone- each playing their role ( or in some cases, roles) to perfection. Yes, I can recommend the show because of the story itself and the fine acting. Perhaps if I were to rate the performances on their own, there would be aright here.
The overall production, from the set with its wall filled with books, a huge numbers and lots of great prop pieces (grest job Nicholas F. Jackson), wonderful projections (Michael Stanfill) sound (Andrew Hansen and costumes ( Alex Wren Meadows) keeps the eyes in place for some long silent spells, when a point is being made, and yet, we do not wander from the story. There were a few props that ended up in the audience area and some that were strewn over the stage, that due to the movement o fthe show were left in place as we went from scene to scene. I didn’t care and neither did the opening night audience on Friday! The music interlude choices used between scenes and before the start and second act were sheer perfection in setting the tone for the times. The times were changing, but not the minds of those in power. There are some explosive scenes and performances, so if you are in the first row, be prepared for flying file folders, bread, milk and who knows what. But be prepred for a solid piece of work as well!
“The Normal Heart” is a love story! It is also a story of relationships between family members, lovers, Doctor/patient, and about homosexulas who chose to stay in the closet because of job and security , yet wanted to fight for the rights of those who were being affected by this new “disease”. This was the 1980’s and while there have been many changes in our society a sto how they view others and AIDS, have we really changed that much? Timeline wants to make sure that those who view the play can also learn more if they choose to so there are discussions after the performances on:
Wednesday, 11/6, hursday 11/14, Sunday 11/17 and Thursday 12/12 and a Sunday Scholar panel discussion Sunday 12/4 6:30-7 p.m.. To learn more about this, visit www.timelinetheatre.com/normal_heart/events.htm
“The Normal Heart” will continue at Stage 773 thru December 22nd with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $37-$50 and are available at the box office, by calling 773-327-5252 or online at www.timelinetheatre.com
There are student discounts of $10 with valid ID
This is not for everyone and since the topic is about death, make sure that the people in your party are sensitive to the subject matter. Parking is available on Belmont, some metered, some not and valet parking is available at the door of Stage 773.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Normal Heart”