Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 25, 2014

The Normal Heart

Theatre Guild of Hampden, Hampden, MA
through November 2, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

It was the early 80's. At first, cases were remote, isolated. The public was unaware, but seemingly, out of nowhere, people were seriously ill, and dying…and they were virtually all gay! It was determined that whatever this illness was, that it attacked the body’s immune system, leaving it incapable of fighting the infections of this 20th century plague. And no one was doing anything about it.

That is the overriding story of Larry Kramer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “The Normal Heart,” presented by the Theatre Guild of Hampden, in a courageous production directed with great sensitivity by Mark Giza.

The cast is impeccable -- every role meticulously cast. The early scenes crackle with often sardonic humor as a group of friends attempt to deal with the situation. Luis Manzi, as Ned, takes up the challenge of recognizing and accepting that the reality that this illness must be faced and fought. But, this small ”band of brothers” cannot do it alone. Manzi’s performance is masterful, capturing every nuance of his character’s determination, dedication, frustration, and anger.

Equally brilliant is Arnaldo Rivera as Felix, who convinces Ned that he can love and be loved. Felix’ deterioration is tragic to witness, but managed touchingly and with dignity. His performance is flawless.

The thoroughly professional cast is amazing. Paula Cortis as Dr. Brookner, conveys professionalism, sympathy and understanding while, seemingly, facing a hopeless task. Brad Shepard has the difficult assignment of portraying Ned’s older brother who can’t quite accept his sibling’s homosexuality. Andrew Ingham is perfect as Bruce Niles, a CityBank Vice President who accepts the leadership of the group’s organization while still trying to hide his own gay persona.

Steve Sands as Mickey, mostly lighthearted, in Act II delivers a tension-filled attack on Ned that reveals the true depth of his character. Kellum Ledwith contributes several light moments in his portrayal of Tommy, as an almost stereotypical young, gay man, untouched by the tragic circumstances that surround him. Important contributions are made by Kevin Wherry, Silk Johnson, and John Flynn in lesser roles.

For a riveting evening of theatre, delivering high drama tempered by flashes of humor, “The Normal Heart” has it all, but only until November 2.