To Win a War, You Have to Start One

Posted by Darwin Tenoria on 12:10 PM
To Win a War You Have To Start One
A Stage Play Review of the Necessary Theatre’s The Normal Heart

Jam-packed with socio-political underpinnings of gay dynamism in New York during the early 1980s, “The Normal Heart” highlighted the pressing issues bombarding the gay community particularly the male homosexual population which are still observable in the current times.

Produced by Actor’s Actors’ The Necessary Theatre, the stage play was bodily lifted from the original autobiographical play by Larry Kramer, an American playwright, author, public health advocate, and LGBT activist. Kramer was able to witness first-hand the spread of the disease later known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) among his friends, thus the inspiration for the stage play itself. The play was also adapted into an HBO TV movie directed by Ryan Murphy and starred Mark Ruffalo who played the role of Ned Week and Matt Bomer as Felix Turner, Weeks’ love interest.

Topnotch theater actor Bart Guingona, who also directs the play, essayed the role of the very intense activist Ned Weeks who is both difficult and charming. Richard Cunanan took on the role of Ben Weeks — Ned’s brother, a lawyer, conservative, successful, tolerant of gays, loves his brother. Topper Fabregas played the role of Felix, a closeted, attractive, NY Times reporter. TV personality TJ Trinidad played the role of Bruce, a very handsome, charismatic, closeted All-American banker, elected to lead the organization. Also in the cast were Roselyn Perez, Red Concepcion, Nor Domingo and Jef Flores.

The story revolved around the character of Ned Weeks, a gay activist who struggled to pool resources and mobilize an organization to heave awareness about the fact that an unknown disease is killing off an incongruously unambiguous crowd: gay men mainly in New York City. Various external and internal factors were at play and served as hindrances for him to push further his advocacy. First was the government’s inadequate (or lack of) response regarding the issue; local authorities, particularly the mayor, just turned a deaf ear to the cries for help. Second was the double-edged sword social stigma against gay men that existed during those times. His character mirrored the immense push of advocates today to better address the issues enveloping HIV/AIDS such as government budget allocation, lack of education and information dissemination, research constraints, the public shame against the LGBT community, and a whole lot more.

Towards the end of the theater play, statistics and facts about HIV/AIDS condition in the Philippines were flashed on the backdrop. Putting those side by side with the storyline of the play, one can clearly say that New York 1980s is like Philippines 2015. The personal conflicts of the characters echoed the daily struggles of PLHIVs in the Philippines today. Kramer’s words are so powerful and emotionally charged that it would take exceptional actors to give them justice. This cast is more than up to the task. Standouts were Roselyn Perez, who played the role of the wheelchair-bound Dr. Brookner, whose delivery of an ardent speech paling against the rejection of the US government to fund her research into the disease is astounding in its intensity, and Domingo as Mickey, who also gets a pay heed moment of his own as he breaks down amidst the pressure of volunteering for the organization and keeping his job with the city government.

More than the emotional attack that was greatly showcased during the play, the message of the lines and the script served as a wakeup call to everyone: “HIV/AIDS is everybody’s concern.” How many Felix has to die? I guess all of us would say: none. We should all strive to unleash the hidden Ned Weeks in us: fearless, objective, and militant; quoting him, “That's how I want to be remembered: as one of the men who won the war.”