The Little Theater of Winston-Salem performed Larry Kramer The normal heart at the Reynolds Place Theater this past weekend, February 11-13, 2022. The normal heart focuses on the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York between 1981 and 1984. Ned Weeks (played by John Furr) joins forces with Dr. Emma Brookner (played by Sheri Masters) to organize an advocacy group whose mission is to raise funds to raise awareness and study the previously unknown virus in hopes of finding a cure. The themes of the play explore the concept of community and how people can come together to fight for a common cause.
The normal heart serves as an example of how art can be used for social change. In social change, there is also advocacy, raising awareness and starting difficult conversations. It is said that the purpose of art is to make people feel uncomfortable. The normal heart premiered in 1985 in an Off-Broadway production at the Public Theater in New York City, during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “I think it’s such a powerful and somewhat timeless story,” said James Crowe (Felix Turner). “It’s a very specific story to our (gay) community so it’s very important for me to tell it.” When it premiered in 1985, the play received reviews from The New York Times, Newsweek, and The New York Times review. Kramer’s piece did what was intended – it started a conversation.
The concept of using art as an agent of social change is a tried and tested formula. Movies such as The Hate You Give (2018), The Blind Side (2009), and The Fallout (2022) all tackle issues such as racial inequality, police brutality, school safety and homelessness. Like normal heart, there has been a continued increase in LGBTQIA+ representation and queer stories coming to the fore. Musicals such as Rent (1996), Falset (1992), and A Strange Loop (2022 all tell strange tales of identity, race, and coming of age. Additionally, transgender and non-binary communities are given prominence with TV shows like POSE (2018-2021) and Sort Of (2021-present).
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I was proud to learn that the small theater in Winston-Salem cast openly gay men to play the lead roles of Ned Weeks and Felix Turner. Moreover, more than half of The normal heart the cast identify as openly gay. “I feel honored, proud and happy that Little Theater wants to tell this story,” said John Furr (Ned Weeks). “It’s not just a gay story; it’s a great American play. The normal heart is written by one of the most powerful activists in the gay community and being able to represent his lyrics as a gay man has more resonance than I would think if the role was played by someone who identifies as straight . It’s great to see the local theater in Winston-Salem tell authentic stories with people who carry an authentic purpose. Thank you for using your stage to share a piece of this important history, The Little Theater of Winston-Salem!
The Arts Council is the primary advocate for the arts and culture sector in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Our goal is to serve as a leader in upliftment, awareness and support to develop and sustain artistic, cultural and creative offerings throughout our region. We recognize that it takes every voice, every talent and every story to make our community a better place to live, work and play. The Canada Council is committed to serving as a facilitator, organizer and promoter of authentic, inclusive and forward-thinking conversations. Each year, more than 800,000 art experiences take place in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. To learn more about upcoming arts and culture events in our community, visit cityofthearts.com.