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Capsule Reviews

Our critic weighs in on local theater

The Normal Heart Larry Kramer's prescient novel Faggots, published in 1978, graphically detailed -- and railed against -- the hedonistic gay scene of New York City during the era, with its soulless, disease-spreading anonymous sex. He received death threats; his best friends turned against him; the nascent gay press condemned him; and NYC's lone gay bookstore banned the book. Kramer's unofficial title is "Angriest Gay Man in America," and his semiautobiographical play The Normal Heart, which premiered in 1985, is his revenge -- and his testament. Though not the first in the subgenre of gay theater known as AIDS plays (that would probably be Jeffrey Hagedorn's 1983 one-acter One), Heart is certifiably the best. A primer on the physical and emotional beginnings of AIDS, the story is imbued with paint-blistering condemnation, righteous anger and bitchy humor. Theatre New West's production, under the stylish and prudent direction of Joe Watts, is everything Kramer's drama aims to be, and then some. The play builds inexorably, so that the final scene, the quiet hospital-bedside wedding between protagonist Ned (Steve Bullitt) and dying partner Felix (Joseph Zoellers), becomes overwhelming -- the distillation of all that's come before. It has showstopping (and heart-stopping) impact. The production is marvelously cast with an acting dream team. Bullitt's self-effacing dignity grounds them all. Through September 30. Bering & James Gallery, 805 Rhoda. For tickets, call Theatre New West, 713-522-2204.

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