Amy Thone Is Abnormally Talented

And Thirty Years Later, The Normal Heart Is Still Infuriating

Amy Thone Is Abnormally Talented

Erik Stuhaug

THE NORMAL HEART Amy Thone is not normal.

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There's one woman and a bunch of dying guys. That's the structure of The Normal Heart. The woman is a doctor—the "doctor of death," they call her—and the guys are her patients. The guys who don't die before our eyes are going to die soon, and they know it, and it shows. These are the earliest days of AIDS; the play starts in 1981. One of the minor characters walks across the stage with Kaposi's sarcoma on his face, and I realized, watching him, that I'd never been in a room with someone with Kaposi's sarcoma, the purple lesions that many sick guys got. At intermission, I asked my companion, a gay engineer in his 30s, if he'd ever seen Kaposi's sarcoma before, because I wanted his opinion on the makeup design. He thought I was asking about a band. That's how little conversation there is among gay guys born after 1980 about our shared history.

Lots of gay movies touch on AIDS slightly, but a little knowledge, as someone smart once said, is dangerous. Young gay guys are pretty eye-roll-y and know-it-all-ish about everything. And no young gay guy goes up to an older gay guy at a party and goes, "So tell me about AIDS." And what would he tell, anyway? The whole history of horrors in his head? That is a worthwhile conversation, but if you're not an aggressive conversationalist, it's never going to happen. In walks theater.

Thirty years after Larry Kramer wrote it, The Normal Heart is still full of infuriating detail about, say, how difficult it was to get the New York Times to write about AIDS, even though New York was the disease's epicenter. (Closet cases at the New York Times didn't want to out themselves by caring too much about it.) To say nothing of how difficult it was to get research funding. The mayor of New York City was also a closet case—or a "bachelor," as Dr. Emma Brookner puts it, disgustedly, in air quotes. Dr. Brookner is played by Amy Thone, a brilliant Seattle actor who's been praised to the skies in The Stranger before. (She has a Stranger Genius Award.) I hate to heap more attention on Thone at the expense of the other actors, but so be it: She's un-look-away-from-able. Her unimpressed is very impressive. She's so convincing, it feels like an actual pissed-off doctor from 1981 has been airlifted into the production, and the rigmarole of getting her here was so expensive, they couldn't afford a set. (Well, it's very sparse, but director Sheila Daniels does one or two wonderful things with it.) All the other actors are of normal talents. There was no bar at intermission, even though a bar was desperately needed. A third of the audience was in tears by the end. recommended


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Tracy 1
Powerhouse of Seattle talent assembled on this. Glad to hear it pays off!
Posted by Tracy on January 22, 2014 at 2:24 PM · Report this
Tldr: a gay man who grew up during the onset of the AIDS plague is glad the next generation doesn’t experience the full trauma of that time and is also glad that there are still chances to get a sense of that time.

As a 50 year old gay man I am intimately familiar with the topic of The Normal Heart, I finally cried my way through a production of it a couple of years ago, and I’ll never see it again. I think the impact of AIDS on our society has never been adequately explored. The fact that I am married now is probably directly related to the fact that most of the gay men my age who were in New York died in the 80s. I’ll probably never completely reconcile my guilt about this.

There is a video (I’m to lazy to get the link, but you’ll get the point) that shows young eagles taking their first steps out of their nest. The brave, aggressive ones strike out for the edge of the cliff that the nest is on. One eaglet stays back in the nest, the next frames show a hawk coming and grabbing the aggressive eaglets that ventured out while the timid one survives. That ideal I think accurately portrays the reality for the majority of 45-55 year old gay men. The ones who are here today are the ones who found a way to stay behind and let others take the risks of trying to fly.

You can still see the impact of this today. At a “gay” event the 45-55 years olds are usually out numbered by the 60+ year olds. (That is my experience, I really don’t want to make this about what group suffered more; god knows that too many men period died too young.) There are just so many of my mini-generation that are gone. That the Kings’ English was ever considered a best film for a year speaks to the huge loss in creativity that we experienced.

Still I’m glad that 30 year old of today don’t really remember this time, and growing up and coming out with AIDS as a given threat was certainly no picnic. But I’m also glad that The Normal Heart and Angels in America are still around and being produced. I hope this generation of gay men and future generations see this to have some sense of the trauma that cauterized the older men.

Posted by cub on January 22, 2014 at 11:18 PM · Report this
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Toasterhedgehog 4
"All the other actors are of normal talents."

That has to be the most dismissive sentence I've ever read in a theater review. Was it calculated to be discouraging? No mention of the rest of the cast would have been enough to communicate that they were unremarkable. And why use the word 'talent' rather than 'ability' or 'skill'? Talent is inborn; unchangeable. And from the rest of the review, it sounds like they were fairly effective in their roles.

I'm in no way involved in this show. I likely won't be in town to see it, but I have to wonder what the actors did that earned them such damning faint praise.
Posted by Toasterhedgehog on January 23, 2014 at 9:14 AM · Report this
@4 Some of the actors weren't very good, but not bad enough to be called out by name in such a short review. I could have said "of modest talents" but I was riffing on the word "normal." The more important point, I thought, was Thone's absolute command of every scene she's in. If "All the other actors are of normal talents" is the most dismissive sentence you've ever read in a theater review... you haven't read many of my theater reviews.

@2 Three paragraphs is too long? Your comment was five paragraphs! I am very interested in this subject of generational guilt and the absence of older gay men. "I think the impact of AIDS on our society has never been adequately explored" --> I absolutely agree. And I hope young guys see this for the same reasons you mention. I didn't cry when I read the play last year, but I certainly cried while I was watching this production. I'd love to see that eagle video if you ever find it.
Posted by Christopher Frizzelle on January 23, 2014 at 1:57 PM · Report this
Christopher Frizzelle is a normal hack.
Posted by L'Ami du peuple on January 24, 2014 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Not to diminish the horror and tragedy of so many gay men dying of AIDS, but I don't think it's true to say--as @cub does--"that most of the gay men my age who were in New York died in the 80s"
Posted by silvertron on January 24, 2014 at 4:04 PM · Report this
"I was riffing on the word "normal." Such a dazzling display of verbal wit and style. That's pretty rich: the talentless hack Frizzelle pontificating on degrees of mediocrity.
Posted by geronimo on January 24, 2014 at 11:41 PM · Report this
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@7 I'm not sure of your age, but I can tell you that I lived in Montreal during those years, and while I know that not everyone in Montreal died then, out of all of my guy friends, I only have one left. I know that now as I approach 60, I'm basically facing those years without anyone that I grew up with to help me figure out this part of my life. I also know that for 10 years, I spent most of my free time in hospitals, by bedsides and at funerals. So while not everyone died, it certainly feels like everyone did.
Posted by kevin11 on January 29, 2014 at 12:57 AM · Report this
@7: Over 300,000 people died of AIDS in the US in the 1980s, the vast majority of them young gay men. The epicenter of the epidemic was New York.

That's a national trauma on the scale of 6 Vietnam Wars, with the impact concentrated in our community. Look around at the bars, at the parades, at the political meetings and rallies: you'll notice that there's a generation missing.

The number of dead, BTW, now stands at over 600,000 in the US, and at 30 million worldwide. Over 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, 20% of them don't know it, and infection rates are rising among young gay men who seem to think that living with HIV is just like living with diabetes. (And why the fuck, one wonders, would anyone be blase about living with diabetes? That shit sucks too!)
Posted by BABH on January 29, 2014 at 9:00 AM · Report this
Once again, I'm not trying to diminish the horror of all those deaths from AIDS, but I don't see that point of making exaggerated claims. And saying most gay men in New York in the 1980s is an exaggeration.

And I'm 48 and was born in NYC and lived there until 2004.
Posted by silvertron on February 7, 2014 at 11:33 PM · Report this
Sorry, I meant to say
And saying most gay men in New York in the 1980s died from AIDS is an exaggeration.
Posted by silvertron on February 7, 2014 at 11:35 PM · Report this

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