Make us your home page

Audiences will take an emotional journey in Freefall's 'The Normal Heart'

Cast members include, from left, Dick Baker, Eric Davis, Larry Alexander and Jim Sorensen. The play, set in the ’80s, stars Davis as writer-activist Ned Weeks and focuses on the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Freefall Theatre

Cast members include, from left, Dick Baker, Eric Davis, Larry Alexander and Jim Sorensen. The play, set in the ’80s, stars Davis as writer-activist Ned Weeks and focuses on the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love,

But to be loved alone.

W.H. Auden wrote these lines about the "normal heart" in his poem September 1, 1939, his disapproving reaction to the outbreak of World War II.

Playwright Larry Kramer was inspired by the poem, which was where he got the name for his searing play about the dawning days of the AIDS epidemic. The Normal Heart, directed by Larry Silverberg, opens Saturday at Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg.

The play tackles the politics and societal responses of the disease in early 1980s New York when it didn't even have a name. It is largely autobiographical, told through writer-activist Ned Weeks, played by Freefall artistic director Eric Davis. The play unfolds as Weeks tries to organize a group of gay men to raise awareness about AIDS. The men are similar in some ways but different in many others.

The political and societal overtones are strong, but at its core, The Normal Heart is about love, relationships and the quest and need for acceptance. Its universal message is what has kept the work alive, despite being rooted in a very specific time.

The play was controversial when it premiered Off-Broadway in 1985, and a revival in 2011 won a Tony. HBO has made a movie of The Normal Heart, starring Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons, which will debut May 1. Last week, the cable channel announced that it will produce a sequel, also written by Kramer.

Davis says that people remember the time from different points of view, and while there are a handful of stories played out on stage, there were thousands in real life. Advancements in treatment have made the disease manageable for many patients today, but in the early 1980s, it was a death sentence.

Freefall's cast, some of whom were young children in the early 1980s, put in quite a bit of research time to understand the climate of the era.

"We had to put ourselves in that time," Davis said. "There are a lot of correlations made in the play to the Holocaust. There was a fear of people being put into camps." He recounted efforts to pass laws that would require infected people to be identified with tattoos or to corral patients in WWII-style internment camps.

"This is an important part of our history," Davis said. And, he added, while we've come a long way, people living with AIDS are still stigmatized and family acceptance remains a struggle.

"We ask audience members to listen with an open heart," he said. "When they are hearing some of the things that will bring up their own prejudices, the ultimate question should be does one deserve to die for these things and does society ignore huge swaths of society because they don't understand them?"

Filmmaker Leigh Simons, who saw the original play in New York, has been filming the Freefall actors in rehearsals for a three-part documentary. (The first episode can be seen at Simons says that while the audience goes through a visceral journey during the play, the cast also deals with their own emotional battles.

"I have found being on stage for rehearsals, it's a love story," Simons said. "Historically it's such an important piece, and the evolution of the characters is amazing."

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected]


The Normal Heart

The Normal Heart opens Saturday and runs through Feb. 16 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Showtimes and days are 7 p.m. Thursdays and 8 p.m. Fridays and Sundays with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $20 to $44 depending on performances and age of patron. (727) 498-5205 or

Audiences will take an emotional journey in Freefall's 'The Normal Heart' 01/21/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 7:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Lose your mind' when Starbucks introduces the Zombie Frappuccino


    Starbucks is at it again.

    A picture of the poster of the reportedly new Starbucks' Zombie Frappucino. [Screengrab via Twitter]
  2. Cookbook review: ‘Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook' is like a friend who always has a good recipe up her sleeve


    Cherry Bombe is a biannual indie magazine, weekly radio show/podcast and annual conference that celebrates women and food. And this month's release is a cookbook, a compilation of tried-and-true recipes from women who are famous both in the food world and other industries. Think model and cookbook author …

    By Kerry Diamond 
and Claudia Wu Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $35
  3. Beautiful Hong Kong is pulsating with life and culture



    “Ah money, money, money!" the cabdriver exclaimed with no small sense of sarcasm in his Cantonese-accented English as he waved in the direction of the spectacular skyline of Hong Kong, a city that revels in its reputation as an international financial capital.

    The Hong Kong skyline, seen here from Victoria Peak, the highest point in the city at 1,800 feet, is a sight to behold.
  4. How to pick the perfect fall six-pack of beer

    Bars & Spirits

    With each fall comes another opportunity to assemble the perfect seasonal six-pack. Of course, this is often a six-pack in name only, as many of the latest seasonal brews come in large- format bottles (with a price tag to match). That just means that you'll need to assemble some friends and family to share with, and who …

     Abita Pecan Harvest Ale: As the name suggests, this toasty amber ale is brewed with roasted Louisiana pecans. The base beer is fairly neutral, allowing the sweet and nutty pecan character to stand front and center. It drinks not unlike a liquid pecan pie — though it’s a bit less sweet, thankfully.