'THE NORMAL HEART': Theatre Review by Sydney Brooman
Whether it is through moments of unapologetic laughter or solemn silence, Larry Kramer's "The Normal heart" is nothing short of an emotional experience that leaves the most distinct and memorable of impressions. John McKenzie directs this riveting portrayal of the 1980's play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic, an ordeal that was largely ignored for many reasons. Though the story follows Ned Weeks, a loud, confrontational, homosexual, New Yorker struggling through his attempts to bring awareness to the epidemic, the play is also a looking glass into an important time in human history. While the performance grapples with the effects of the disease at its most concrete, medical forms, it also speaks volumes about activism and the power and fragility of standing up for what is "right". There is a haunting discomfort at the show's end as nothing feels like it has been resolved, and with 35 million people worldwide currently living with HIV/AIDS, the story defiantly points our awareness towards something much bigger than its own presence.
The Palace Theatre's Procunier Hall, with its limited seating and private space, creates a very intimate effect that is crucial to the success of the piece. When in the front row, the audience is drawn into the characters' lives at an intimacy level that rivals that of the actors; however, during moments of unrest or uneasiness, the venue leaves no escape from the show's raw emotion. There is nowhere to hide in an environment that teeters on the edge of fringe theatre, and it leaves an audience at the mercy to whatever epiphanies they might have while watching. The space certainly lends a hand to Kyle Stewart's portrayal of Ned Weeks who, though skilled in the delivery of his lines, shines most in moments in which his body language and mannerisms do the acting. From the first time he steps on stage, Stewart's facial expressions and physical presence speak louder than anything said out loud. Through ticks, physical separation from the other actors on stage, and a consistently never faltering plethora of movements in the background, Ned Weeks becomes a soul burning so hot with defiance and passion that his body can hardly shade the light. The audience's eyes are glued to Stewart at all times, ear drums ringing with the deafening scream of rage that tears its way through his moments of silence. It works exceptionally well then that his co-star Josh Taylor, playing Ned's dying lover Felix Turner, shares this exceptional skill. The two of them take up a presence on the stage that is unmatched to the lines they are delivering; an entire performance in which they