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|‘Normal Heart’ leads the pack in summer stage fare|
|Written by Jim Farmer|
|Friday, 22 June 2012 00:00|
Summer is when most theater companies take a break, or present lighter fare than usual. That is not the case for the Saint Mark United Methodist Church’s Drama Ministry, which is staging a version of Larry Kramer’s powerful “The Normal Heart,” officially opening this weekend.
The play broke ground 30 years ago and is still successful as a warts-and-all account of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic including the politics in New York during that time.
St. Mark’s production is directed by Jim Baker and boasts a large local cast comprised of one woman and 10 gay men.
Playing the lead role of Ned Weeks — the alter ego of Larry Kramer — is John Harr. Nothing he has ever done approaches the emotional scope of this role, the actor says.
“Part of the character is very angry. Part of him is very scared; at the time everyone was scared, scared at not knowing what was happening,” Harr says. “I also think to some degree he was afraid of being alone. He desperately wanted somebody, although he would never admit it. That is true for a lot of people.”
Harr realizes that a lot of what Kramer wrote about so long ago is still true.
“There is still not a cure and many of the issues and prejudices are still around,” he says. “There is the perception among the younger generation that you can take a pill and manage this and go on with life.”
Ned’s lover Felix is played by Steve Hargrove. Hargrove remembers watching a “20/20” segment featuring GRID (the first name of the disease) in the ‘80s and wondering how it would affect the gay community. His first friend died of AIDS in 1986 and another not long ago.
“I don’t know that many churches that would stage this,” Hargrove adds.
‘Earnest’ at Oglethorpe
As part of their summer rep, Georgia Shakespeare is presenting a version of Oscar Wilde’s classic “The Importance of Being Earnest,” directed by openly gay Sabin Epstein.
Epstein has done numerous shows with the company over the last decade, most recently “King Lear” few years back.
Epstein says “Earnest” is still relevant because it’s funny but also a social commentary.
“It’s dealt with in a satirical manner but has so much truth — men on the down low, snobs, social strategy,” he says.
Gay actor Mark Cabus plays Lady Bracknell. When Epstein held auditions, both men and women clamoured to play the role. “I think there is something very masculine about Lady Bracknell, and she’s a juicy character,” says Epstein.
Cabus’s take was the one that impressed him the most and the actor was ready for the role.
“I have played a woman before, but this is the first time in full drag,” Cabus says. “For me, the biggest challenge is taking a character so well known, so formidable, that people have opinions about.”
Cabus says it’s important for audiences to realize that he is playing a woman, not a man disguised as a woman.
That’s not the only incident of cross dressing here. Actress Megan McFarland plays the small role of male butler Lane.
Finally, Serenbe Playhouse, who opened up their summer season with the inventive world premiere “Alice in Wonderland,” will open “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on June 28. Like “Alice,” it is directed by openly gay artistic director Brian Clowdus.
Top photo: Saint Mark United Methodist stages Larry Kramer’s ‘The Normal Heart’ through June 30. (via Facebook)
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