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‘Normal Heart’ Has a Timeless Appeal

“The Normal Heart,” Larry Kramer’s devastating 1985 chronicle of foot-dragging, denial and Kafkaesque terror during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, hasn’t lost its punch, as a hard-hitting revival of the production at the Hudson Backstage demonstrates.

Much of the drama’s continuing relevance lies in its sobering, cautionary insights into the psychological and moral crises spawned by pestilence. As Kramer’s alter ego, gay journalist and activist Ned Weeks (Tony Frankel) soon discovers that these inherently human problems are aggravated by a unique constellation of factors in the AIDS outbreak--the insidious nature of the infection, its first appearance among a socially outcast population, and bureaucratic inertia. Just as disturbing is the reluctance of a community to curb a promiscuous lifestyle that for many has become a symbol of hard-won self-definition.

Frankel’s focused intensity and rage perfectly evoke the messianic crusader; less convincing are the sarcasm and self-destructive elements in Ned that round out his personal drama.

But director Richard Hochberg takes up the slack with brisk pacing and a meticulously well-cast ensemble. Particularly effective are Thomas Tofel as Ned’s ambivalent heterosexual brother, Philip Earl Johnson as the principal rival for steering the public awareness movement, and Ed Martin as a homosexual rights advocate whose life is torn apart by the political ramifications of the epidemic. The most poignant performance, however, comes from Jack Turturici as the newfound love who helps Ned recognize the normal need in every heart for love, understanding and solace.

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* “The Normal Heart,” Hudson Backstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends April 27. $15-$25. (213) 660-TKTS. Running time: 3 hours, 5 minutes.


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