After much trepidation, I finally got around to seeing HBO’s The Normal Heart. I started working in NYC theatre in the early 1990’s, at the end of the great wave of the epidemic the play explores. At that time, there were many ghosts, and there were some still suffering, still dying. I remember my supervisor at my Broadway internship. He was HIV-positive which later developed into AIDS. He died a little while later. His family — strict Irish Catholics from Boston — did not attend, would not attend his funeral. So it goes.
I’m going to get into trouble for this, but here goes. The Normal Heart is not a good play, at least not in the traditional sense. It is half screed, half narrative. It is angry, and it is right in its anger. It has all of the power of the theatre, not in the aesthetic sense but in the political one. It lacks the eloquence, the poetry, the imagination of Angels in America, but it is necessary nonetheless. Mark Ruffalo is quite the fine actor, but, perhaps counter-intuitively, he brought too much talent to the role, too much nuance. Ned Weeks is more a figure of agitprop than a fully rounded character. He needs to be angry. He needs to be always angry. He needs to be a very hot knife cutting through a butter of apathy, hypocrisy, and cruelty. Ruffalo was…too nice. Much attention has (rightly) been paid to Matt Bomer’s performance. I would also point out the excellent work Jim Parsons in a not very flashy role did. A flawed adaption of a tough play. Still glad HBO committed to it. It’s important.