Play Review: The Normal Heart – A Poignant, Moving & Bravo Manila Version

Thank you Larry Kramer for creating The Normal Heart obra!

I was technically a fifth grader when news first broke out in America about the discovery of the scientific acronym of HIV or human immunodeficiency virus which attacks the immune system and weakens one’s ability to fight infections and
disease.Thus was born, AIDS aka Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome which is the final and deadly stage of HIV infection when the body of an infected person gives up its fight.

Locally, the Philippines was not spared from being hit by the news of HIV related cases dating back in January 1984
according to the Department of Health files. The statistics are getting scarier and scarier.
P1240187It is not very easy to discuss about such a notorious disease in HIV and AIDS considering how a person can acquire it and who are its target. Sadly, there is still no cure for HIV despite much improved scientific facilities and the tons of knowledge which was scarce back in the early ’80s when it all began. And when it was reportedly the gay community who initially got infected by this disease. My Hollywood favorites Freddie Mercury of QUEEN, Rock Hudson, Liberace and Anthony Perkins all died of AIDS-related complications.

Thanks to a brave and bold public health advocate and LGBT rights activist, Larry Kramer, who later on became the so-called voice in the wilderness, who made a lot of essential noise to get his message across on the plight of people with HIV and AIDS up until this very day.
P1240191Kramer who’s prolific gift of writing produced an obra maestra stage play material entitled “The Normal Heart” (autobiographical in nature), which was born out of his frustration on a bureaucratic obstacle focusing on the sad fate of the AIDS crisis in New York City Circa 1981 which he himself witnessed.

The play who’s time element was between 1981 to 1984 was a rousing success when it first came out in NYC 1985 and continued to become one of the longest running plays performed in many foreign cities and seen by millions hence.

And thanks to multi-awarded stage actor/director Bart Guingona of Actor’s Actors Inc/The Necessary Theatre, we the folks here in Manila get the rare chance to witness and watch a sensitive, straight play come to life based on the painful and harsh reality of a killer disease and how helpless we are in facing it.
P1240195The local staging of The Normal Heart stars eight talented and exciting actors in the personas of Topper Fabregas, Red Concepcion, Richard Cunanan, Jef Flores, Nor Domingo, Bart Guingona, TJ Trinidad and the only rose, Ms. Roselyn Perez. Bart acts as Ned Weeks, an openly gay and staunch activist and directs this multi-awarded play which was also considered as one of the 100 Best Plays of the Twentieth Century by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.

Here is my breakdown list of FIVE reasons why you should not miss seeing The Normal Heart this July 3 to 5 weekend at the Carlos P Romulo Theatre, RCBC Plaza, Ayala, Makati:
P1240218P12402215) Red Concepcion’s taking of the character of Tommy Boatwright, a hospital administrator and a funny outrageous “Southern Bitch” is a delight to watch thanks to the humor and perfect timing punchlines. Red continues to amaze me as I’ve recently seen him perform in another ongoing musical. Budding actor Jef Flores’ quadruple roles as Hiram Keebler/Examining Doctor/Grady/Craig are must see’s. Watching Jef perform in a couple of plays recently, I am convinced that he is indeed a theater actor on the rise being able to tackle any role with such ease.

4) The role of Ben Weeks, conservative lawyer-brother to lead character Ned is perfect for Richard Cunanan, an award-winning writer himself. He and Bart are perfect together onstage as brothers despite the conflict in their ideals and take on HIV as a dreadful killer. Polio-stricken and fighter Dr. Emma Brookner is likewise perfect for Ms. Roselyn Perez, the only female lead character. Her many years of intense theatre exposure has molded Ms. Roselyn to be the actress in her caliber to beat. They both deliver a few of the many touching scenes in the play.P12402283) I’ve been totally entertained by Nor Domingo in his other ongoing musical. His portrayal of Mickey Marcus, editor of the New York Post, has its frustrating feel which slowly develops into an all-time high emotional explosion that only Nor can deliver with conviction. Watch out for his 3-page monologue which hardly felt as a mono at all. Bravo! On the other hand, it’s a breath of fresh air watching commercial model/movie/teleserye actor TJ Trinidad essay the role of closeted gay multinational banker Bruce Niles. Used to watching him on the big screen and TV, it is very welcoming to admire TJ’s acting prowess onstage and his take on a gay role with a hidden emotional burden suppressed by time.

2) Topper Fabregas is perhaps the best guy to portray Felix Turner, an attractive NY Times reporter who ends up being Ned’s lover. My first time to watch Topper essay such a role in the many straight roles he’s done in the past. I kinda looked forward to the intimate scenes opposite Ned in Bart. My hands down to Bart from start to finish of this very moving play. His almost perfect depiction of a character of Ned Weeks is the bomb. I felt Bart’s raw emotions. Cocktailed with angst, frustration, desperation and hope to his cause on seeking utmost attention from society’s bureaucratic leadership who considers the HIV threat a least health priority.
P12402321) This play is open to ALL! Especially If you are a staunch supporter of the gay community not necessarily a gay person (like moi) you are all very welcome to come and support Bart and his superb cast on their limited run. Now, if you like or prefer the HBO movie version, I am happy for you. But theater is theater and this was the original medium.

P1240235Thirty-four years later, Larry Kramer’s depiction of the HIV scare situation back in NYC 1981 is still a comparable headache issue here in Manila 2015 with issues on proper HIV handling and info dissemination. People with promiscuous sex lives must have themselves checked for risks and possibility of obtaining the Dreaded One. Guys, Let us Stop HIV/AIDS.

Despite the modern times and technology we are surrounded with, it is sad but not everyone is comfortable with same sex/gay relationships and preferences, so they say. But that is another topic. Another chapter…
P1240256Congratulations for such a poignant mounting of THE NORMAL HEART. Kudos Bart, Topper, Richard, Nor, Red, Jef, TJ and Ms. Roselyn and everyone else involved! You guys are all ASTIG!!!

Don’t miss THE NORMAL HEART’s limited runs from July 3-5, 2015 (Friday, 8 P.M. |
Saturday & Sunday, 3:00 P.M. And 8 P.M.) at the Carlos P.
Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.
Tickets are available via Ticketworld: