Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Stage Review - The Normal Heart

   I've read about the Normal Heart as a movie and know that it deals with the first outbreak of HIV in New York in the past.  Knowing that it's a classic tale makes me assume that it's a tragedy.  

   So what surprised me the most about Bart Guingona's take on the Normal Heart is the amount of humor and witticism injected in the dialogue.  Despite the heavy drama that comes with the fatal implications of the plot, the play is suffuse with one liners and glib remarks, having the audience chortling in their seats or gasping at a shocking turn of a phrase.  It made for an enjoyable time. (Homosexuals are suppose to be quick witted as they are good with their mouths...)

   This is not to say the seriousness of the situation is undercut.  The intense scenes are still there, mostly hinging on tensions between characters.  The story is meant to be grim but the pleasant diversions are quite welcome.  There's even some cute, titillating moments of romance, sure to get some hearts skipping a beat.  Though while souls are being bared on stage, there isn't much in the way of skin being exposed.  In keeping with the dignity of the material, shirtlessness isn't really part of the plot.  (Btw, I'll tell you that there's three kissing scenes.  How's that for kiss and tell?)

   The main star and director is Bart Guingona, having the lion's share of everything (see above).  He performs admirably though with the workload on his shoulders, some of this lines are delivered with some pause and hesitation.  Perhaps it's also part of his character's mannerism?  His on stage partner is Topper Fabregas, a post twink with whom the lion doesn't share.  I sometimes thought he channeled Andrew Rannell.  He's lively on stage, except when he isn't but let's say he's an angelic presence.  Dashing TJ Trinidad plays a frustrating character, a bit understated and quite reserved.  Would that he could have been more bold and daring, exposing more than just his pretty face on stage but it probably doesn't work with the plot.  Nor Domingo had a break out breakdown scene that does him credit.  Red Concepcion shed the prissy dress but kept the personality for the southern not-lady role and got a good dose of one liners too.  Richard Cunanan kept a stable demeanor, no horsing around for him.  Jef Flores was a foursome unto himself, playing several meaty roles that displays his flexibility and versatility, bravo. And there's Roselyn Perez, the only woman on stage, in a way.  Her character stands out as a strong personality despite being wheelchair bound.  Props all round for the moving performances in this star studded (emphasis stud) cast.

   The film does a public service of informing the audience of the spread of HIV in the Philippines; a frightening 22 infections a day?  Since the play is set in the past, updated information should be present in the form of booths in the lobby for the audience to check into before or after watching.  It's a very noble endeavor to do.  Giving away condoms as a promotional tactic might be considered controversial, though motel services as a sponsor seems to be all right.

   Gay folks should support the play, even if they are familiar with the movie.  They might have already done their research and know their roots but this local production needs more love.  Straight folks would be education on gay history at least.  And everybody would know more about the flaws of society as the parallels of the theme aren't quite on gay versus straight but indifference and a crab mentality, which relates to our political and social climate. The Normal Heart is suppose to be a wake up call about HIV but could also be an allegory for the corruption of the human system.

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