The Normal Heart, Lincoln Square Theatre, at Berry Memorial United Methodist Church. Larry Kramer's angry chronicle of the early years of the AIDS epidemic depicts how the paltry efforts of medical and municipal authorities forced him--the play's Ned Weeks, his fictional alter ego--and other activists to found the Gay Men's Health Crisis to fight for research and prevention. But then his vitriolic grandstanding and uncompromising stances compelled the other crusaders to expel him from the organization--identity politics had collided with the greater good of safer sex. He's left with only the hope that his lover's AIDS-related death may be among the last.
Every production of this 1985 agitprop masterwork is a communal effort, an outpouring as much as a performance, and Lincoln Square Theatre's revival is more grassroots than most. It's earnest and fervent, but Jerry Miller's staging is jerky and plodding, and actors who don't know how to project declaim their lines away from the audience. It doesn't help that the assembly hall has bad sight lines, metal chairs, no air-conditioning, and a fan that drowns out dialogue.
Yet despite all the distractions, the play still smolders. As Ned--a role that needn't be charismatic, just adamant--Michael Pacas explodes at the right times, though he gets in trouble when he isn't exploding. Joe Waterman achieves the proper pathos as Ned's stricken lover, but Keta Roth barely suggests the frustrations endured by the frontline doctors.