A Week in Review: The Normal Heart and Cirque Du Soleil’s Zarkana

What a crazy week.  School ended (yea and boo!).  Gay marriage is now legal in NY (yea!).  Lice broke out in my daughter’s class (boo!).  San Franciso is deciding whether or not to ban circumcision (boo!).  U.S. Jews are no longer allowed to fly to Saudi Arabia on Delta Airlines (boo!).  People at my synagogue are in frenzy because the educational director  is having a baby on her own, with no husband (are these people living in the stone age? Big boo!)  And I have six days to prepare for our trip to Europe and so much to do.

But in spite of it all, I got to the theater…twice!

The Normal Heart Broadway

Source: Broadway.com

First,I saw The Normal Heart.  I had won a pair of tickets on StageZine, and I am so grateful that I had the chance to see it.  The play was written by Larry Kramer, and performed Off-Broadway in 1985 and 2004. This revival is directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe.  It’s about a group of friends who, in the 1980s, grapple with the fact that all of their friends are dying from an illness that no one in the world is paying any attention to.   Larry Kramer was one of the founders of the Gay Men’s Health Center and the play revolves around the actor who portrays him, played by Joe Mantello, and his battle.  The play starts and ends with death.   Throughout the play, the number of deaths caused by AIDS grow..and grow…and grow.   The characters come face to face with death, either directly or indirectly.  All of the actors including Mantello are impassioned and clearly passionate about this important work they are bringing to the masses.  John Benjamin Hickey (a Tony winner for this show) is excellent as Mantello’s lover and his portrayal of a smart, strong man who becomes infected with the disease is heart-breaking.  Ellen Barkin (another Tony winner for this show) is the only female character in the play, and is out-standing as one of the only proponents of helping the gay population fight this dreadful disease.   The entire cast deserves kudos.  Every single performance was solemn and solid, telling a sad story..a true story…of a nation’s denial that probably caused more death than every needed to happen.  I’m talking about Jim Parkins, Lee Pace, Patrick Breen, Luke Macfarlane, Mark Harelik, Richard Topol and Wayne Wilcox.

At the play’s end, we are told that 35 million have died due to AIDS complications and 75 million have been infected with the dreadful disease.  When we left the theater, we were given a letter written by Kramer himself.  It makes the point that even though it is 2011, there is still no cure and that too many people are needlessly dying with the silence and passivity of the government and drug companies.

It’s true.  Why do we no longer hear about AIDS on the news?  The play is so thought-provoking and truly one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.  I urge you to see it, but you have only a few weeks left.  You shouldn’t miss out on your chance to see it – the show runs through July 10.  You can buy tickets with a 35% discount.  The offer is here, but I’d act quickly as ticket sales have shot up terrifically since the Tony Awards.

ZarkanaOn a more uplifting note (it’s hard to transition into this), I took my son to see Cirque du Soleil’s new piece titled Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall tonight.  Given the high price of tickets, you probably want to know whether it’s worth the money to buy a ticket.  I’d have to say “yes”.  It’s quite fantastic and magical.  It’s coined an “acrobatic rock opera” that blends circus arts with the surreal to create a world where physical virtuosity rubs shoulders with the strange.  Indeed it is, and my 6 year-old was mesmerized.  It’s everything you would expect from Cirque du Soleil: clowns, jugglers, trapeze artists, acrobats, tight rope walkers and other brilliant performances that revolve around ladders, jump ropes, flags, a Russian bar, a Cyr wheel and hoops, sand painting, a “wheel of death”, a hand balancer and more.

Created especially for the landmark theatre, Zarkana, according to Cirque notes, “is a fantastically bizarre world where we follow the adventures of Zark, a magician who has lost his love and, with her, his powers. As he cries and begs for her return he is plunged into a world inhabited by surreal creatures. The diverse cast of 71 international artists transports the audience into a fantastical and suspenseful world, blurring the boundaries between the real and imaginary.”

My son usually goes to bed at 8pm pretty routinely, but given the 8pm curtain call, it didn’t prevent me from taking him and he managed to hang on for the entire performance, often with his jaw dropping.  We were both mesmerized by the singing of the show’s stars, the video that accompanies the show, the music, the costumes, the changing set, the lighting, the shadows on the sides of the wall and the singing fetus (see the show to see what I mean).

I went to a press preview for Zarkana that was quite flawed – trapeze performers were dropping like flies, falling to the net.  The writer and director, Francios Girard, was right in saying that the show would still be fabulous.  He was right – the crew and cast had time to fix the bugs and the show is really, really breathtaking.  For tickets, visit TicketMaster.

Disclosure: Tickets to both shows mentioned were provided to me free of charge to facilitate this blog review, but I was not paid any compensation.

For now, take a look and try to see Zarkana during its long run in NYC.


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  1. Wonderful review of “The Normal Heart.” The show is so simple and moving but also an historical chronicle of the AIDS epidemic. Many people have HIV but with the new meds it’s not the killer it used to be. However, there are complications from all the HIV meds. I thank God every day I managed to stay negative & not catch this awful disease but many weren’t so lucky. I lost my dearest best friend just four years ago to HIV. He had a heart attack at age 39 due to an HIV-related virus that enlarged his heart. The HIV meds couldn’t save him. He passed away on June 30, 2007. So people still die from AIDS; just not as quickly or in the volume they used to. Thanks for a sensitive review of a brilliant show! I think people, gay, straight, all colors, all religions, need to see this play. It’s an eye opener and has a strong message.

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