‘The Normal Heart’ virtual benefit reading to feature LGBTQ cast

The Normal Heart Paris Barclay

Paris Barclay, top left, will direct an all- star people of color and LGBTQ cast in a virtual benefit reading of “The Normal Heart.” Photo: Collage courtesy of ONE Archive Foundation.

Laverne Cox, Guillermo Díaz, and Ryan O’Connell are among an all-star cast who will perform a virtual benefit reading of Larry Kramer’s Tony Award winning play “The Normal Heart” that will be directed by Paris Barclay.

The reading will mark the first time Kramer’s largely autobiographical, Tony Award-winning play will be performed predominantly by a people of color and LGBTQ cast, the producers said in a statement.

The May 8 reading will be a fundraiser for the ONE Archives Foundation and Invisible Histories Project and include a special introduction by Martin Sheen. Tickets go on sale April 8.

“When I was approached by ONE Archives Foundation to direct a virtual reading of ‘The Normal Heart,’ I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Barclay, 64, a two-time Emmy Award winner, said in the statement.

‘The Normal Heart’

“The Normal Heart” focuses on the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s. After cofounding the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1982, Kramer founded ACT UP in 1987. Produced and taught all over the world, “The Normal Heart” was selected as one of the 100 Greatest Plays of the 20th century by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. The play premiered off Broadway at New York’s Public Theater in 1985. It was staged on Broadway by director Joel Grey and starred Joe Mantello in 2011, winning a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. It was the longest-running play in the history of The Public Theater. It was also made into an Emmy Award winning film in 2014 for HBO.

“I lived in New York through the 1980s, saw the original production with Brad Davis, and have never forgotten the experience,” said Barclay, who identifies as gay. “Through today’s lens, the story of a marginalized group of people pushed to activism by the onslaught of an epidemic clearly was worth telling again. We’ve assembled an extraordinary cast that makes this particular reading even more timely, and we hope, more powerful.”

Rounding out the cast:

  • Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us,” “Black Panther”)
  • Jake Borelli (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Thing About Harry”)
  • Jay Hayden (“Station 19,” “The House Bunny”)
  • Daniel Newman (“Walking Dead,” “Homeland”)
  • Jeremy Pope (“Hollywood,” “Choir Boy”)
  • Vincent Rodriguez III (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Insatiable”)
  • Danielle Savre (“Station 19,” “Heroes”)

Funds raised from the event will support ONE Archives Foundation’s LGBTQ education initiatives, including K-12 lesson plans on HIV-AIDS, teacher trainings, youth engagement, and exhibits.

HIV in the South

The benefit also will support Invisible Histories Project’s efforts to preserve the legacy of HIV-AIDS and LGBTQ activists through archiving, inclusion training, exhibitions, and programs about Southern LGBTQ history.

This performance of “The Normal Heart” also is a reminder that the HIV-AIDS epidemic is not over. For example, in 2019, 38 million people around the globe live with HIV.

Its ongoing impact disproportionately affects the Black community. As of 2018, 42% of new HIV cases are in the Black community, which only makes up 13% of the U.S. population.

Southern states account for an estimated 51 percent of new HIV cases annually, even though only 38 percent of the U.S. population lives in the Southern region, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The South also is home to a large percentage LGBTQ people; approximately ⅓  of all LGBTQ people live in the region.

“This virtual reading of ‘The Normal Heart’ reflects a continuing narrative of advocacy, organizing, and the importance of community activism,” said Maigen Sullivan, director of research and development at the Invisible Histories Project said in the statement. “Particularly in an environment with insufficient government resources.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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