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a. Briefplaywrightsbiography(Toinclude:basicbiographicalfacts,especiallyif
Larry Kramer was born on June 25, 1935 in Bridgeport, CT to his parents
George L and Rea W Kramer (Contemporary Authors). He grew up
predominantly in Washington DC where he attended the elite Woodrow
Wilson High School. An abusive father and distant, though loving mother left
him feeling detached and alone. The first person who ever called me a sissy
was my father. He called me that all the time. He would hit me all the time
and scream at me; he just couldnt stand what I had become (Specter). He
reluctantly attended Yale where he received his BA in English in 1957
(Contemporary Authors). While there he had an affair with a professor, and
eventually attempted suicide by swallowing 200 aspirin, after which he told
his brother, Arthur, he was gay. After Yale Kramer was forced to enlist in the
army. He and some friends spent some time stationed on Governors Island.
They were able to visit Manhattan every week. It was the end of the
nineteen-fifties, a time of bohemian pleasure in the Village, and the true
beginning of his gay life (Specter). After the army he worked at the William
Morris Agency and Columbia Pictures as a mailroom messenger running a
teletype machine. He began to study acting at Sanfords Meisners
Neighborhood Playhouse. By 1960 Kramer was back at Columbia, now
working a script reader, which led to a job setting up the story department in
London in 1961. He flipped flopped working in London and NYC until 1972

when he moved back to New York where he still lives. In that time he revised
the screenplay for Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, and in 1969
produced and wrote a film adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel, Women in
Love. Kramer himself was still a closeted gay man during this time, taking
female dates to parties and having short-term affairs with several of them
(Boney). By 1974, he had written at least nine unproduced screenplays
waiting in California on the go-ahead for a film which never happened. He
returned to New York and began writing plays. 1973 was the year of an eight
performance run of Kramers first produced play, Sissies Scrapbook, at
Playwrights Horizons. Kramer describes this early work about the Yale
college days of one homo and three heterosexual friends, later revised and
called Four Friends, as being about cowardice and the inability of some men
to grow up, leave the emotional bondage of male collegiate camaraderie, and
assume adult responsibilities (Fisher). Upon the suggestion of Kramers
therapist to write a novel, he proceeded to write Faggots in 1978. Faggots
satirized the New York gay community and thrust him into controversy
among his peers (Fisher). With Faggots, he had waged a war within and
against a community built on sexual freedom (Boney). When Larry
published a collection of his own literature in 1989, Reports from the
Holocasut: The Making of an AIDS Activist, he was dismayed to say that he
had lost over 500 friends and acquaintances to a mysterious disease that in
the early eighties was loosely dubbed Gay Related Immune Deficiency or
GRID (Fisher; Reports from the Holocaust). His collection included works
from 1981-1989. In 1982, Kramer and some eighty gay associates formed
the first AIDS activist group called G.M.H.C, Gay Mens Health Crisis
(Specter). Kramer, now a writer as well as an AIDS activist, combined his
two careers in his 1985 play The Normal Heart (Boney). The Normal Heart
vicariously chronicled Kramers ultimate dismissal from G.M.H.C, and in
1987 he founded ACT UP, a direct-action group committed to ending the
AIDS crisis. In 1988 Larry Kramer tested positive for HIV. With his illreceived 1989 sexual hypocrisy farce Just Say No, Larry Kramer seemed to
have been becoming better known as AIDS polemicist and activist than as a
playwright, said John M. Clum in Acting Gay (Boney). Kramer would
continue the story of Normal Heart protagonist Ned Weeks in 1992 with The
Destiny of Me, which was runner up for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize awarded to
Tony Kushners Angels in America. William A. Henry stated in Time: More
than a play about AIDS and death, The Destiny of Me is a play about
homosexuality and life. It is irate, not about dying but about having been
unable to live and love (Boney) Since about 1981 Kramer has been working
on a manuscript called The American People: A History, a massive historical
work that starts at Stone Age and continues into the present. Kramer said of
the work, "It is my own history of America and of the cause of HIV/AIDS....
Writing and researching this history has convinced me that the plague of
HIV/AIDS has been intentionally allowed to happen. The first volume was
published I BELIEVE in 2015 (Nuremberg Trials). In 2001, after heated
back-and-forth, with one million dollars from Arthur Kramer, Yale began a

five year trial of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies. He
approached them in 1997 with hopes to give millions of dollars "to endow a
permanent, tenured professorship in gay studies and possibly to build a gay
and lesbian student center (Arenson). Larry Kramer, still alive today, and
still an activist, admittedly commits more of his time to writing nowadays. He
told Victor Zonana in the Advocate, I would like to say emphatically that I
am not burned-out or tired. There just comes a time when you have to decide
how your resources can be better spent. He divulges in a New York Times
essay: This journey, from discovery through guilt to momentary joy and
towards AIDS, has been my longest, most important journey, as important
no, more important than my life with my parents, than my life as a writer,
than my life as an activist. Indeed, my homosexuality, as unsatisfying as
much of it was for so long, has been the single most important defining
characteristic in my life (Boney).
b. Briefplaybiography(Toinclude:playsplacewithintheauthorscareer;

*Kramer, Larry. Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist.
Stonewall Inn Ed. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1989. 217-19. Print.
* Kramer, Larry. "Nuremberg Trials for AIDS." Editorial. The Gay and Lesbian
Review Worldwide 10 Oct. 2006. Wikipedia. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
* Arenson, Karen W. "Playwright Is Denied A Final Act: Writing Own Script, Yale
Refuses Kramer's Millions for Gay Studies." The New York Times 9 July 1997: 19
pars. Wikipedia. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.


a. Wasplayadaptedfromanotherworkorstory?

b. Isplaydrawnfromhistoricalsourcesorcurrentevents?Elaborate,notingany
c. Arethereanyidentifiableinfluencesfromtheauthorsownbiographyonthe
(Larry),Ben(Arthur),andEmma(Linda Laubenstein) (Please Know).
* Kramer, Larry. "Please Know." NPR Media Website. NPR, 24 June 2011. Web.
6 Feb. 2015. <http://media.npr.org/assets/artslife/arts/2011/05/larry-kramerflyer_custom.jpg>.

a. Whatdoesthetitleurgeustoconsiderorthinkaboutinrelationshiptotheplays
b. Afteransweringthequestion,restatethethemeaspreciselyaspossible.


a. Whatgeneralideasorthemesarefoundintheoverallworkoftheplaywright?

b. Findtworeviewsoftheplayinproduction.Includecopiesofthesereviews.Ina


Raw Anguish of the Plague Years

Published: April 27, 2011

More than a quarter of a century after it first scorched New York, The Normal Heart is
breathing fire again. The passionately acted new Broadway production of Larry Kramers
watershed drama from 1985 an indictment of a world unwilling to confront the epidemic
that would come to be known as AIDS blasts you like an open, overstoked furnace. Your
eyes are pretty much guaranteed to start stinging before the first act is over, and by the
plays end even people who think they have no patience for polemical theater may find their
resistance has melted into tears. No, make that sobs.


New York Times Review

Enlarge This Image

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The Normal Heart From left, Ellen Barkin, John Benjamin Hickey and Joe Mantello in a revival of Larry Kramer's play at the
Golden Theater. More Photos


Slide Show

The Normal Heart

Excerpt: 'The Normal Heart'


More 'Normal Heart' Reviews

Off Broadway Revival (April 22, 2004)
Original Production (April 22, 1985)


ArtsBeat: Larry Kramer Hand Delivers a Message (April 25, 2011)

Connect With Us on Twitter

Follow @NYTimestheater for theater news and reviews from Broadway and beyond.

Enlarge This Image

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

From left, Patrick Breen, Joe Mantello, Jim Parsons and Richard Topol play gay men with divergent reactions to the AIDS
crisis. More Photos

When it first opened at the Public Theater, The Normal Heart sounded like a hoarse,
relentless Jaccuse! screamed directly at a gallery of blame-worthy individuals and
institutions that included Mayor Edward I. Koch, The New York Times, the American
medical establishment and the majority of gay men in New York City. Surprisingly, many
theatergoers even those at whom the plays hectoring finger was pointed felt that Mr.
Kramer was beautiful when he was angry. A focal point for people searching for vicarious
venting in those early plague years, The Normal Heart became the longest-running hit in
the history of the Public Theater.
Many of the adjectives that were attached to The Normal Heart at that time still apply:
fierce, angry, engaged, confrontational. But in the new incarnation of The Normal Heart,
which opened Wednesday night at the Golden Theater, anger is only one note in a
polyphonic chord.
Political outrage may be what shaped this drama, inspired (very directly) by Mr. Kramers
early days as an AIDS activist. But what emerges so stirringly from this production which
follows the shaky emergence of a political movement among gay New Yorkers to deal with
AIDS is its empathy with people lost in a war in which they have no rules, no map, no
weapons. Everyones flailing, everyone behaves badly, and everyone is, if not likable, at least
understandable. There is no rationing of compassion here, even for the enemy.
Dont let me deceive you into thinking that Heart has mellowed in the intervening years.
As directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe and performed by a top-notch cast that
includes Joe Mantello, Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey the play remains a
bruiser. This is a production, after all, in which the showstoppers are diatribes. (One
delivered by Ms. Barkin, playing an endlessly frustrated doctor, receives the kind of
sustained applause usually reserved for acrobatic tap dancers.)

What this interpretation makes clear, though, is that Mr. Kramer is truly a playwright as
well as a pamphleteer (and, some might add, a self-promoter). Seen some 25 years on, The
Normal Heart turns out to be about much more than the one-man stand of Ned Weeks, the
writer who takes it upon himself to warn gay men about AIDS (before it was even identified
as such) and alienates virtually everyone he comes across. Ned Weeks need I say? is
Larry Kramer, with a thoroughness that few onstage alter-egos can claim.
Ned is portrayed by Mr. Mantello with the centering urgency and stridency that the role
demands. But he lets us feel the cold streak of fear and loneliness that runs through
Neds combative style. As a leader he may be the abrasive nag that his times require, but
theres also something irresistible about his combination of confident energy and selflacerating doubt. You can understand why Felix Turner (Mr. Hickey, excellent), a closeted
style writer for The New York Times, would fall in love with him.
And it is not for nothing that as a boy Alexander Weeks changed his name to Ned, after a
character in Philip Barrys Holiday. Mr. Kramer may be first and foremost an agitator, but
he is also a lover of witty romantic theater. And in this production I was able to perceive the
sort of sexual sparks, struck by semi-hostile banter, that I associate with Barrys barbed
dialogue of courtship. I believed in Ned and Felix as a couple here, and I never had before.
For that matter, though The Normal Heart can be as emotionally manipulative as War
Horse (theres a death-bed wedding scene), I found myself believing completely in all the
relationships and caring about every character (even the snarky mayors aide played by
Richard Topol). That includes Emma Brookner (Ms. Barkin), a paraplegic doctor who finds
her patient list of fatally ill gay men growing by the day.
Like Ned, Emma is perched on a soapbox, but we understand the psychological as well as
the political motives that put her there. And as embodied by Ms. Barkin (in a slam-dunk
Broadway debut) and Mr. Mantello, theres plenty of chemistry between these self-created
dragons. They understand each other, which means they dont have to tread too carefully
when theyre together.
Before the play ends, Ned will have shed many of his closest friends and his allies in the
organization he has helped to found (which bears a close resemblance to Gay Mens Health
Crisis). Yet when those friends turn on Ned, we dont turn on them. Thats because they are
each drawn with such clarity and detail that we understand exactly why they behave as they

Patrick Breen, Lee Pace and Jim Parsons (of The Big Bang Theory) are all terrific as very
different types of gay men who band together and chafe and clash and ultimately explode.
(Each has at least one outburst that leaves you as shaken as they are.) And Mark Harelik is
superb as Neds brother, Ben, a stiff-backed lawyer who loves and is embarrassed by his
younger sibling. Theres a lot of complicated, illuminating chemistry in this relationship too.
Not that we are ever allowed to forget that there is something bigger going on than the usual
dramatic soap operas of fractured families and love affairs. The walls of David Rockwells set
a homage to the original white box set at the Public are carved with headlines and
talismanic words that chart the rapid progress of a disease and the slow official response to
it. The names of those killed by AIDS are also projected on those walls, in ever-increasing
More than any naturalistic version, this design summons the very climate of fear and
uncertainty in which the characters in The Normal Heart lived and breathed and, too
often, died. What makes this production so deeply affecting, and so much more than a
warning cry from another time, is our awareness of how that element shapes and warps the
people who inhabit it: how it brings them together and tears them apart and makes them
noble and craven and hysterical and heroic, and, above all, so very frightened, confused and,
yes, hopping mad.
The crisis depicted so vividly here is far from ended, as cases of AIDS continue to multiply
internationally. And lest you leave this play thinking that youve had only a great cathartic
night at the theater, fliers from Mr. Kramer are being handed out after the show (by Mr.
Kramer himself on occasion), explaining how incomplete the fight against AIDS remains.
Read one and take heed. But remember that the man who wrote it also wrote a far better
play than you might have thought.
By Larry Kramer; directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe; sets by David Rockwell;
costumes by Martin Pakledinaz; lighting by David Weiner; projections by Batwin + Robin
Productions; music and sound by David Van Tieghem; technical supervisor, Peter Fulbright;
production stage manager, Karen Armstrong; general manager, 101 Productions. Presented
by Daryl Roth, Paul Boskind and Martian Entertainment, in association with Gregory Rae
and Jayne Baron Sherman/Alexander Fraser. At the Golden Theater, 252 West 45th Street,
Manhattan; (212) 239-6200; telecharge.com. Through July 10. Running time: 2 hours 30

WITH: Ellen Barkin (Dr. Emma Brookner), Patrick Breen (Mickey Marcus), Mark Harelik
(Ben Weeks), John Benjamin Hickey (Felix Turner), Luke MacFarlane (Craig
Donner/Grady), Joe Mantello (Ned Weeks), Lee Pace (Bruce Niles), Jim Parsons (Tommy
Boatwright), Richard Topol (Hiram Keebler/Examining Doctor) and Wayne Alan Wilcox
A version of this review appears in print on April 28, 2011, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Raw
Anguish Of the Plague Years.

Stage Review : 'Normal Heart': Aids

December 13, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic


It takes an angry man to write an angry play. Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" at the
Las Palmas Theatre is a broadside in dramatic form against those who failed to respond
accurately to the AIDS threat three or four years ago, when its gravity should have been
These include the straight world for ignoring the problem and the gay community for
failing to clean up its own sexual act in the light of the problem. Specifically indicted are
the mayor of New York and the New York Times. Also implicated--and this makes "The
Normal Heart" something more than a broadside--is one Ned Weeks.

Weeks (Richard Dreyfuss) also is the hero of the play. Like Kramer, he has written a
novel chiding his fellow gays for confusing promiscuity with liberation. The AIDS crisis
further exacerbates the preacher within him, and he forms a group designed both to
bring public attention to AIDS and to promote safe sex among gays--which, for the
moment, means no sex.
The group has some success, but Weeks' personal style is so abrasive that his fellow
members expel him as a fanatic. (Their letter of dismissal is scathingly specific.) At the
same time he loses his first real lover--as opposed to bathhouse pickup (Bruce
Davison)--to the disease. Ned Weeks can't, it seems, control the universe.

Beneath the social concerns of "The Normal Heart" is the story of a man who must learn
to adjust his expectations of other men downward if he hopes to do any good among
them. This is interesting. So is the play's message that having sex with as many partners
as desired is actually a kind of addiction. What play in the liberated '70s and '80s has
dared to say that?
And so is the play's presentation of gay men as men who happen to be gay, with only one
character (played by William Acutis) inclining to the queenly side. "The Normal Heart"
is refreshingly unexotic on this score. Dreyfuss' tenderness with Davison is written and
played in a matter-of-fact way, and will be understood that way. An angry play, it isn't a
sensational one.
Is it a good one? No. It almost doesn't have time to be one, so intent is it on imparting its
rage at the Establishment and in inspiring gays in the audience to stop playing victim-and to stop killing themselves. As an AIDS documentary, it is also already something of
a period piece, thank God: The causes of the disease have been more clearly pinpointed
But it is a salvageable play, given a hard-headed production that won't dawdle and that
won't give in to hysteria and self-pity. On that score the news from the Las Palmas is far
from good. There are some fine actors in this play, but the casting is not on the nose,
and Arvin Brown has directed with a very slack hand. Scenes that ought to be shaped
and pointed drag along like an afternoon soap.
Dreyfuss would seem to be perfect casting for the feisty Ned Weeks--no one plays popoffs better. But since "The Hands of Its Enemy," he seems to have come down with a
case of the pauses, meaning that no line gets delivered without one or two rests in the
middle, to denote thoughtfulness and sincerity.
This proves catching, and a play which has great verbal energy on the page (it's been
published by New American Library) comes off as slack conversation, punctuated by
bouts of hyped emotion. This is a play buzzing with ideas--not abstract ones, but ones
that will literally determine whether the characters will live or die. Brown's actors feel

the play, to the bottom of their hearts--but they're so busy feeling it that they forget to
speak it. (An exception: David Spielberg as Dreyfuss' attorney brother.)
And certain people just don't work in certain roles. Kathy Bates was superb as the smalltown suicide in " 'Night, Mother," but you can't buy her as a blunt, self-controlled New
York doctor who knows where all the bodies are buried. Similarly, Vincent Caristi seems
much less articulate than his lines as a gay who's not about to give up his liberation now
that he's achieved it.

Davison is more like it as Dreyfuss' lover, a New York Times reporter who's very easy
with himself and his sexuality--the play's reason-speaker. He and Dreyfuss give "The
Normal Heart" a sound emotional center, for all one's frustrations in hearing it.
And D. Martyn Bookwalter's set is splendid, just bare enough and just full enough. At
climactic moments the walls become illuminated parchment, and we see hundreds of
men's names--all AIDS victims. If "The Normal Heart" keeps one name off that list, it
was worth doing. But I wish it were being done better.
Larry Kramer's play, at the Las Palmas Theatre. Producers: Gene La Pietra, Josh
Schiowitz, Paul Randolph-Johnson, Loren Stephens, Harriet Newman Love, Van
Spaulding, Larry Jans, Gil Garfield, the Montecito Company, David Knapp. Director:
Arvin Brown. Scenic and light design: D. Martyn Bookwalter. Costumes: Reve Richards.
Sound: Jon Gottlieb. Casting: Penny Perry. Production stage manager: Joe Cappelli.
Associate producer: Elaine Ellison. With Richard Dreyfuss, Kathy Bates, Christopher
Bradley, Vincent Caristi, Bruce Davison, William De Acutis, Kenneth Kimmins, Ben
Murphy, David Spielberg. Plays Tuesdays-Sundays at 8 p.m., with Saturday-Sunday
matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets $19.50-$25. 1642 N. Las Palmas. (213) 466-1767 or 4803232.

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