First produced last winter at the Next Theatre, Eric Simonson’s passionate staging of The Normal Heart has reopened at the Ivanhoe, which of late has hosted light musical and comedy fare. Normal Heart is anything but–written by gay activist Larry Kramer, it’s a lacerating, deeply serious examination of the individual and social costs of AIDS in the early days of the epidemic. Kramer, who fought in the front lines of the crisis before it even had a name, spares no one in his rage that the epidemic wasn’t stopped in its early stages: his targets include inefficient and callous governmental bureaucracy, exacerbated by the reluctance of closeted homosexual politicians to express concern for a “gay disease”; a medical establishment more concerned with research credit than with healing, and a gay leadership unwilling to reevaluate its emphasis on sexual liberation. Underneath the angry rhetoric, though, is a love story about the bonds in a small group of underfunded, overextended activists. In restaging the play for the Ivanhoe, director Simonson has given more attention to the script’s romantic and comic aspects–which only serves to underscore the wrenching power of its final scenes, with their almost dreamlike tone of simultaneous hope and despair. In an acting ensemble notable for its spiritual interconnectedness, the performances of Ann Dowd, Scott McPherson, and Ross Lehman stand out as particularly powerful. Ivanhoe Theater, open run. Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 6 and 9:30 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $15-$19.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.