The Tony award-winning play, The Normal Heart, which first appeared off-Broadway in 1985, makes its motion picture debut this Sunday, May 25th, on HBO.
Three years ago “Glee” co-creator Ryan Murphy optioned the rights to Larry Kramer’s passionate, angry and confrontational stage play about the apocalyptic AIDS health crisis faced by the New York City gay community in the nineteen eighties. Filming for the project began last summer on location in New York City.
Murphy chose to cast Hollywood A-list star Julia Roberts in the role of Dr. Emma Brookner. According to playwright Larry Kramer, this character was based on the life of Manhattan physician, Dr. Linda J. Laubenstein, who in 1981 discovered some of the first mysterious cases of what would then become known as HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Laubenstein and co-author Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien were first to publish their discovery of an unusual outbreak of skin lesions (caused by Kaposi’s sarcoma) among young gay men in New York City. An outspoken and brash fighter, Dr. Laubenstein fought tirelessly against public and private institutions whom she felt stood in the way of containing, treating and curing the AIDS epidemic. Incredibly, she herself suffered terribly from another epidemic–childhood polio—which left her a wheel-chair bound paraplegic from age five. In 1992 she passed away from complications of a recurrence of polio; she was only 45 years old.
The Normal Heart resonates with me because I was active at the front lines of the battle against HIV/AIDS during these years. I was on the faculty at M.D. Anderson working at the AIDS Hospital here in Houston when the stage play premiered. I even got a call from Larry Kramer once, talking about our activism here in Houston and our protests when the AIDS Hospital was closed.
I look forward to seeing the movie version of The Normal Heart. Having seen the original play, I know that it’s a powerful reminder of the traumatic early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The playwright Larry Kramer said it best in the printed pamphlet which accompanied the original off-Broadway production, a portion of which we’ve reprinted below:
Heartfelt Plea from Larry Kramer
Please know that everything in The Normal Heart happened. These were and are real people who lived and spoke and died, and are presented here as best I could. Several more have died since, including Bruce, whose name was Paul Popham, and Tommy, whose name was Rodger McFarlane and who became my best friend, and Emma, whose name was Dr. Linda Laubenstein. She died after a return bout of polio and another trip to an iron lung. Rodger, after building three gay/AIDS agencies from the ground up, committed suicide in despair. On his deathbed at Memorial, Paul called me (we’d not spoken since our last fight in this play) and told me to never stop fighting.
Visit HBO’s The Normal Heart web page for more information and showtimes.