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30-Year-Old Play Revived In Seattle To Combat AIDS Complacency

Courtesy of John Ulman
The lives of Mickey (Stephen Black), Ned (Greg Lyle-Netwon) and Felix (Andrew Russell) are forever affected by the scourge of AIDS in Strawberry Theatre Workshop's "The Normal Heart."

Stephen Black remembers the moment he decided to bring a play called "The Normal Heart" to Seattle.

"I scored a ticket to the New York revival," says Black. "It brought up all my memories of coming of age in the era of AIDS." Black says he wept for the friends he lost to the disease in the 1980s. And he was determined that this 30-year-old play would speak to young people who didn't remember a time when HIV/AIDS wasn't treatable with powerful drugs.

Black says when HIV first appeared in large American cities, it hit mostly gay men. It was a new disease, with mysterious origins. Some called it the "gay plague," and many politicians shied away from funding research into the mysterious ailment. The public complacency fired up many gay men and public health activists, among them writer Larry Kramer. He helped form the organization "Act Up," a radical group bent on getting help for people with the disease.

But Kramer may be better known for his play. "The Normal Heart" opened in New York in 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The semi-autobiographical story about a New York writer's fight for AIDS research was the first play about the disease. The 2011 Broadway revival won a Tony Award.

After Stephen Black saw that production, he was determined to bring the play to Seattle. Although Black had a theater background, he works in public relations these days. So he contacted an actor friend, and through her, spoke with the leaders of Seattle's Strawberry Theater Workshop, which agreed to produce "The Normal Heart."

Stephen Black got to fulfill a  dream: he's one of the lead actors in the Seattle production, his first stage role in more than 20 years. That thrills him, but Black says his main goal is to get people talking about HIV/AIDS.

People are complacent about the disease, Black believes. He hopes a play written out of anger and desperation can jolt them out of that complacency.