Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart debuted at New York’s Public Theater in 1985, taking its title from a line in W. H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939.” That date marks the German invasion of Poland and the beginning of W.W. II. Kramer’s play, largely autobiographical, is about another kind of war, one that began in the early 80s—the AIDS crisis, and the sexual, social, and civic politics that battled in its wake. “As a student I was lucky enough to see the landmark Royal Court production of The Normal Heart starring Martin Sheen,” Dominic Cooke said recently. “It had a profound effect on me and I’ve wanted to direct the play ever since.” And now he is—at the National Theatre. Fierce and confrontational, but also big-hearted and tender, the play approaches political activism, and the struggles faced by the LGBTQ community, in ways that make it acutely topical. —B.A.
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