In these disturbing times, in which so many of us are apprehensive about the now and the soon to come, the darknesses of our collective history may be obscured, especially those that did not spring purely from war, terrorism or politics. This makes the timing right for ion Theatre’s mounting of Larry Kramer’s 1985 play, The Normal Heart. The semia-utobiographical work, which chronicles the horrifying emergence of the AIDS virus, is both a reminder of a devastating period in America and of how far (and how little) we’ve come on so many levels since the early ‘80s.
Ion Executive Artistic Director Claudio Raygoza delivers a fearless performance as Ned Weeks, the gay activist whose passion and anger over what’s happening to his fellow man, including his first true love, undermines his fight for help. As with the best of ion’s productions, The Normal Heart benefits from the Hillcrest theater’s intimate blackbox environs. Being part of the audience and feeling the burst of emotions—the pain, the frustration, the fury—from Raygoza’s Weeks is inescapable.
The first act of The Normal Heart, co-directed by Raygoza and ion Artistic Director Glenn Paris, is measured compared to the second act, where playwright Kramer’s narrative structure is more monologic. Not only Raygoza, but ion Associate Artistic Director Kim Strassburger (as a fiercely committed doctor), Michael Lundy (as an advocate breaking down from the strain) and Joel Miller (as the conflicted president of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis), lay bare all their raw emotions.
In spite of its ensemble’s heightened performances and riveting discourse, The Normal Heart is a disquieting theater experience, as it should be. Its story is still one without a finish, and that reality must not be lost amid the exigency of our current political anxieties. Whether intentional or not, ion has made a bold choice to stage this still-important play during the compulsory merriment of the holiday season. If you’ve only seen the fine 2014 HBO film adaptation, catching ion’s production will deepen your understanding, and perhaps your outrage and compassion as well.
The Normal Heart runs through Dec. 17 at ion theatre’s BLKBOX in Hillcrest. $12-$45. iontheatre.com
A Christmas Carol: The mean and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge gets visited by three ghosts and, well, you probably know the rest. Adapted to be a musical by Sean Murray for Cygnet Theatre, it opens Nov. 25 at the Old Town Theatre.
The Mystery of Love and Sex: A “Southern Gothic romantic comedy” about two teens coming to grips with their respective bodies and sexualities. Written by Bathsheba Doran, it opens Nov. 25 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org
White Christmas: Based on the film of the same name, this classic Irving Berlin musical tells the tale of two singing sisters on their way to a gig in Vermont. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens Nov. 25 at the Spreckels Theatre in Downtown. sdmt.org
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The Broadway musical adaptation of John Cameron Mitchell’s film tells the tale of a transgender East German rockstar who is just looking for her other half. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it opens Nov. 29 at the Civic Theatre in the Gaslamp. broadwaysd.com
Miss You Like Hell: In this world premiere musical, a teenage girl sets out on a road trip with her free-spirited Latina mother. Written by Erin McKeown, it runs through Dec. 4 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
A Chorus Line: The classic musical about a group of gypsies who audition for a Broadway show. Directed by Thomas Fitzpatrick, it runs through Dec. 11 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
The Normal Heart: Larry Kramer’s seminal work about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City. Presented by ion Theatre Group, it runs through Dec. 17 at the BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
The Dybbuk of Hannah and Sam’s Wedding: A broken vow blurs the line between the supernatural and the real world in this musical based on S. Ansky’s classic, The Dybbuk. Featuring original music from local Klezmer musician Yale Strom, it runs through Dec. 18 at the Lyceum Theatre in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
The Fantasticks: Two fathers stage a kidnapping in hopes that their two children fall in love in this ‘60s musical. Directed by Ted Leib, it runs through Dec. 18 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
The 1940’s Radio Hour: A family-friendly musical about a quaint New York radio station that’s about to air its last broadcast of holiday music. It runs through Dec. 18 at the Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Now in its 19th year, this holiday classic tells the musical tale of a green grump who plans to ruin the holidays for the town of Whoville. Directed by James Vásquez, it runs through Dec. 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org