The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me
Two Playsby Larry Kramer
“The blood that’s coursing through The Normal Heart is boiling hot. There can be little doubt that it is the most outspoken play round.” –Frank Rich, The New York Times
The Normal Heart, set during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, is the impassioned story of Ned Weeks. The play is a moving denunciation of the ignorance and fear that lead to the worldwide plague that now exists. Its companion play, The Destiny of Me, continues the story of Weeks, now in a hospital undergoing treatment, as he finds himself confronting his life and fighting to get a little more time among the living.
The Normal Heart was selected as one of the 100 Greatest Plays of the Twentieth Century by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.
“An extraordinary play! It is bracing and exciting to hear so much passion and intelligence. Kramer produces a cross fire of life-and-death energies that create a fierce and moving human drama.” –Jack Kroll, Newsweek
“The blood that’s coursing through The Normal Heart is boiling hot. There can be little doubt that it is the most outspoken play round.” –Frank Rich, The New York Times
“Kramer’s astounding drama about AIDS is too urgent to ignore! An astounding drama . . . a damning indictment of a nation in the middle of an epidemic with its head in the sand. It will make your hair stand on end even as the tears spurt from your eyes. Dynamite!” –Liz Smith, New York Daily News
“Wired with anger, electric with rage. . . . Powerful stuff.” –The Boston Globe
“The play, with its focused anger, still has something to teach us about the dangers of complacency.” –Elle
“Kramer’s landmark drama . . .timely as ever” –Robert Hurwitt, The San Francisco Chronicle
“There’s no distance between the personal and the political in this watershed AIDS drama . . . Kramer’s aching Heart beats fiercely . . . [with] emotional volatility. The Normal Heart unleashes a ferocious wave of feelings, from outrage to sorrow, that threaten to engulf the viewer. . . . The playwright’s insights into human nature are keen indeed. He captures the paralysis that a climate of fear can cause. The play can be seen as a study in denial, an example of how mankind buries its head in the sand when confronted with inconvenient truths of all kinds. The strength of this landmark drama is how much it has to say not just about a dark moment in history, but about the forces that conspire to keep people silent in the face of anguish. Kramer has written a parable about the fight that echoes as loudly today as ever.” –Karen D’Souza, San Jose Mercury News
“No one who cares about the future of the human race can afford to miss The Normal Heart.” –Rex Reed
“The Normal Heart has broken a great silence. . . . It has put politics and journalism to shame for the cover-up of a major disaster and one of the great moral dramas of our time.” –Francis Fitzgerald, author of Fire in the Lake
“Impassioned writing . . . explosively powerful . . . uniquely important.” –The Advocate
“I haven’t been this involved–upset–in too damn long. Kramer honors us with this stormy, articulate theatrical work.” –Harold Prince
“Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart is arguably the best political play of that schizophrenic decade and definitely the definitive dramatic exploration of the early years of the AIDS crisis.” –Chicago Tribune
“Larry Kramer’s 1988 masterwork refuses to date.” –Chicago Reader
“Kramer’s play actually may work better now in the tragic hindsight of history.” –Chicago Sun-Times
“In The Destiny of Me, Larry Kramer has written a worthy sequel to The Normal Heart. What Kramer captures expertly in the past is family relations in their ambiguities, hostilities, and reconciliations . . . and almost equally skillfully in the present, the bristling relations of patient and doctor, patient and nurse. . . . A kind of–and this is meant as praise–Jewish-homosexual Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” –John Simon, New York
‘searing!” –Vanity Fair
“Gives new hope to the American theater. One of the year’s ten best. . . . Poignant, most moving, enriching.” –Time
“Overwhelmingly powerful . . . scaldingly honest . . . a seismic jolt of visceral theatricality!” –Frank Rich, The New York Times
“A harrowing, emotionally naked family-memory-AIDS play, playful and moving, personable and disturbing, with scenes of devastating counterpoint. The work of a theater artist . . . like Arthur Miller at his best.” –Newsday
“Driven by a fierce honesty and searing pain, Kramer’s emotional and moral urgency fills The Destiny of Me with irresistible human truth.” –Newsweek
“A mature work by a gifted American playwright in his prime . . . bitter and angry and full of biting humor.” –The Wall Street Journal
“The Destiny of Me is bigger than any one of us. The Long Day’s Journey comparisons are apt. At long last Kramer the activist has leashed in Kramer the polemicist, letting loose Kramer the artist.” –QW
“The Destiny of Me is a beautiful, somber play, very mature, and very personal. Plays are meant for presentation. Great plays also stand well as great literature. This is one of them. Kramer proves once again his place as one of the best writers of our times.” –Lambda Book Report
More Praise for The Normal Heart:
“The Normal Heart is one of the most remarkable plays of the 20th century. May it be seen by everyone. A tremendous event is happening at the Public with Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and you must hurry to experience it at all cost. Put simply, the landmark play ought to be seen by everyone. It would be a blessing if the memorable production could reach a wider audience on Broadway.” –John Heilpern, The Observer
“Poetic and timeless. Irresistably passionate and defiant. This benchmark drama has the fraught urgency of a dispatch from a war zone. Raul Esparza definitely has the presence to anchor a big, bustling drama. McCaleb Burnett is first rate. Fred Berman is terrific. Designed with Spartan elegance by a crack technical team that includes Eugene Lee (set) and Ken Billington (lighting). Even more than in the original, this one illuminates a poignant, quieter pattern of longing to connect in a world that keeps building new walls among people.” –Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“Perhaps the most political drama ever written. The Normal Heart is political theater of the best kind-the kind that reveals how the political derives, absolutely if chaotically, from the personal. It is art, doing only what art can do: devastate, then chip away a space beyond the devestation, ending on a frail moment of hope that seems to require a future-and in requiring, to start it.” –Jesse Green, The New York Times Magazine
“Rarely have I seen an audience so genuinely moved by a play-or been so moved myself.” –Michael Sommers, The Newark Star Ledger
“A galvanizing experience-thunderously powerful. Raul Esparza is ferocious.
Grade: A” –Entertainment Weekly
“A searching, often witty, and rousingly human drama. A flawless cast. Raul Esparza proves himself yet again one of our finest and most versatile actors. Billy Warlock gives a subtle variegated performance and there is no less stunning support from Fred Berman, Mark Dobies, Richard Bekins, and McCaleb Burnett. Taut and moving direction by David Esbjornson. You will hear fellow theatergoers weeping all around you, the sound muffled only by that of your own cathartic sobbing.” –John Simon, New York
“Trenchant. Impassioned. Riveting. Breathtaking. Peopled by full-blooded characters, laced with biting humor made all the more tighter by David Esbjornson’s scalpel-sharp direction. Raul Esparza seems to burn off a layer of skin every ten minutes.” –Robert Simonson, Time Out New York
“Plays brilliantly.” –Donald Lyons, New York Post
“Burns white hot. Blisters with conviction and heart. Stinging. Galvanizing. Prescient.” –Christopher Isherwood, Variety
“A shock to the system. In David Esbjornson’s powerfully wrought production, The Normal Heart has taken on the gripping moral heft of a monument by Arthur Miller. Ned Weeks is played with massive intelligence and charisma by Raul Esparza. McCaleb Burnett is especially charming. Kramer’s monumental call to arms demands not to be forgotten.” –Linda Winer, Newsday
“The Normal Heart is unbearably poignant. Billy Warlock is wonderfully sexy and tender. His relationship with the always edgy Raul Esparza is deeply moving. Richard Bekins plays with great savvy. McCaleb Burnett is especially funny.” –Howard Kissel, New York Daily News
“Larry Kramer’s formative drama demands attention and holds its audience rapt. I went to see it with a gay man who was a child when the epidemic struck. He cried and cried.” –Richard Goldstein, Village Voice
“Kramer makes the fear of the unknown palpable. The visceral feeling that you are no longer watching a play but experiencing real people living and dying real lives takes over.” –Steve Weinstein, The New York Blade
“Billy Warlock, who resembles James Dean and Brad Pitt, shades his character from impish flirty wit to painful enfeeblement. Esparza playing his lover, comes across with integrity and a kind of heroism. The lighting by Ken Billington insinuates eloquent touches, especially in scenes that gutter and fade as if lit by a candle in the wind.” –Malcolm Johnson, Hartford Courant
“Kramer’s monumental call to arms still burns fiercely and demands not to be forgotten. Who knew Kramer could be so prescient. Raul Esparza is perfect.” –Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press
“Director David Esbjornson’s simple yet powerful production compellingly makes the case for The Normal Heart’s status as a modern theatrical classic.” –Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter
“The Normal Heart is an indispensable play.” –Jeremy McCarter, The New York Sun
“The Normal Heart, once timely, is now timeless.” –Matthew Thomas, Talkin’ Broadway
“A masterpiece. I have no end of praise for Mr. Kramer’s play, Mr. Esbjornson’s production, and the performances of Mr. Esparza and his fellow cast members; this is rare, exciting, and necessary theatre.” –Stan Richardson, NYTheatre.com
“This production is one of the most searing, mind blowing and life affirming theatrical experiences that New York has seen in decades. I guarantee it will move you–and something more. Remember that unforgettable feeling truly great theatre gives you, when you leave a performance and find yourself both envying and pitying those on the street or in the subway because they have not just shared what you’ve experienced? See this new production of The Normal Heart, and get that feeling.” –John Kenrick, Musicals101.com
“A tour-de-force.” –American Theater Web
“Raul Esparza in a revelation of a performance.” –Backstage.com
“Searing and heartbreaking. The Normal Heart is so damning of Ed Koch that the former mayor may want to keep a low profile to avoid being booed in public.” –William Stevenson, Broadway.com
“More than any of the attempts to use the theater as a way to understand the explosive world we live in, this new-old play proves that political theater is alive and well. Don’t miss it.” –Curtain Up
“Poignant and unafraid.” –Tony Phillips, Gay City News
“A play for all seasons in a powerful new staging.” –William Wolf, Wolf Entertainment Guide
“Fred Berman gives a painfully memorable performance.” –David Finkle, Theatermania.com
“Powerful and riveting.” –Danbury News-Times
“A thunderous statement by a great playwright.” –Barbara & Scott Siegel, Theatermania.com
‘director David Esbjornson has shaped the production with equal amounts of tenderness and raw energy. A landmark play.” –Leslie Alexander WRTN and WVOX
“Magnificent and unmissable.” –Jeff Whitty, Next
“I left the theater renewed, reempowered, and redetermined to continue the self-defining quest to become something more than the definition of me as my father’s son. To become, in fact, my own man.” –David Drake, The Advocate
The Normal Heart
One of the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain’s 100 Greatest Plays of the Twentieth Century
One of Ben Brantley’s 10 Best Plays of 2011 in The New York Times
The Destiny of Me
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
A double Obie winner
Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play of the Year
The Normal Heart: Act One – Scene 1
The office of DR. EMMA BROOKNER. Three men are in the waiting area:
CRAIG DONNER, MICKEY MARCUS, and NED WEEKS.
CRAIG: (After a long moment of silence.) I know something’s wrong.
MICKEY: There’s nothing wrong. When you’re finished we’ll go buy you something nice. What would you like?
CRAIG: We’ll go somewhere nice to eat, okay? Did you see that guy in there’s spots?
MICKEY: You don’t have those. Do you?
MICKEY: Then you don’t have anything to worry about.
CRAIG: She said they can be inside you, too.
MICKEY: They’re not inside you.
CRAIG: They’re inside me.
MICKEY: Will you stop! Why are you convinced you’re sick?
CRAIG: Where’s Bruce? He’s supposed to be here. I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful lover. I love Bruce so much, Mickey. I know something’s wrong.
MICKEY: Craig, all you’ve come for is some test results. Now stop being such a hypochondriac.
CRAIG: I’m tired all the time. I wake up in swimming pools of sweat. Last time she felt me and said I was swollen. I’m all swollen, like something ready to explode. Thank you for coming with me, you’re a good friend. Excuse me for being such a mess, Ned. I get freaked out when I don’t feel well.
MICKEY: Everybody does.
(DAVID comes out of EMMA’s office. There are highly visible purple lesions on his face. He wears a long-sleeved shirt. He goes to get his jacket, which he’s left on one of the chairs.)
DAVID: Whoever’s next can go in.
CRAIG: Wish me luck.
MICKEY: (Hugging CRAIG.) Good luck.
(CRAIG hugs him, then NED, and goes into EMMA’s office.)
DAVID: They keep getting bigger and bigger and they don’t go away. (ToNED.) I sold you a ceramic pig once at Maison France on Bleecker Street. My name is David.
NED: Yes, I remember. Somebody I was friends with then collects pigs and you had the biggest pig I’d ever seen outside of a real pig.
DAVID: I’m her twenty-eighth case and sixteen of them are dead. (He leaves.)
NED: Mickey, what the fuck is going on?
MICKEY: I don’t know. Are you here to write about this?
NED: I don’t know. What’s wrong with that?
MICKEY: Nothing, I guess.
NED: What about you? What are you going to say? You’re the one with the health column.
MICKEY: Well, I’ll certainly write about it in the Native, but I’m afraid to put it in the stuff I write at work.
NED: What are you afraid of?
MICKEY: The city doesn’t exactly show a burning interest in gay health. But at least I’ve still got my job: the Health Department has had a lot of cutbacks.
NED: How’s John?
MICKEY: John? John who?
NED: You’ve had so many I never remember their last names.
MICKEY: Oh, you mean John. I’m with Gregory now. Gregory O’Connor.
NED: The old gay activist?
MICKEY: Old? He’s younger than you are. I’ve been with Gregory for ten months now.
NED: Mickey, that’s very nice.
MICKEY: He’s not even Jewish. But don’t tell my rabbi.
CRAIG: (Coming out of EMMA’s office.) I’m going to die. That’s the bottom line of what she’s telling me. I’m so scared. I have to go home and get my things and come right back and check in. Mickey, please come with me. I hate hospitals. I’m going to die. Where’s Bruce? I want Bruce.
(MICKEY and CRAIG leave. DR. EMMA BROOKNER comes in from her office. She is in a motorized wheelchair. She is in her mid-to-late thirties.)
EMMA: Who are you?
NED: I’m Ned Weeks. I spoke with you on the phone after the Times article.
EMMA: You’re the writer fellow who’s scared. I’m scared, too. I hear you’ve got a big mouth.
NED: Is big mouth a symptom?
EMMA: No, a cure. Come on in and take your clothes off.
(Lights up on an examining table, center stage. NED starts to undress.)
NED: Dr. Brookner, what’s happening?
EMMA: I don’t know.
NED: In just a couple of minutes you told two people I know something. The article said there isn’t any cure.
EMMA: Not even any good clues yet. And even if they found out tomorrow what’s happening, it takes years to find out how to cure and prevent anything. All I know is this disease is the most insidious killer I’ve ever seen or studied or heard about. And I think we’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg. And I’m afraid it’s on the rampage. I’m frightened nobody important is going to give a damn because it seems o be happening mostly to gay men. Who cares if a faggot dies? Does it occur to you to do anything about it. Personally?
EMMA: Somebody’s got to do something.
NED: Wouldn’t it be better coming from you?
EMMA: Doctors are extremely conservative; they try to stay out of anything that smells political, and this smells. Bad. As soon as you start screaming you get treated like a nut case. Maybe you know that. And then you’re ostracized and rendered worthless, just when you need cooperation most. Take off your socks.
(NED, in his undershorts, is now sitting on the examining table. EMMA will now examine him, his skin particularly, starting with the bottom of his feet, feeling his lymph glands, looking at his scalp, into his mouth. . .)
NED: Nobody listens for very long anyway. There’s a new disease of the month every day.
EMMA: This hospital sent its report of our first cases to the medical journals over a year ago. The New England Journal of Medicine has finally published it, and last week, which brought you running, the Times ran something on some inside page. Very inside: page twenty. If you remember, Legionnaires’ Disease, toxic-shock, they both hit the front page of the Times the minute they happened. And stayed there until somebody did something. The front page of the Times has a way of inspiring action. Lie down.
NED: They won’t even use the word “gay” unless it’s in a direct quote. To them we’re still homosexuals. That’s like still calling blacks Negroes. The Times has always had trouble writing about anything gay.
EMMA: Then how is anyone going to know what’s happening? And what precautions to take? Someone’s going to have to tell the gay population fast.
NED: You’ve been living with this for over a year? Where’s the mayor? Where’s the Health Department?
EMMA: They know about it. You have a Commissioner of Health who got burned with the Swine Flu epidemic, declaring an emergency when there wasn’t one. The government appropriated $150 million for that mistake. You have a mayor who’s a bachelor and I assume afraid of being perceived as too friendly to anyone gay. And who is also out to protect a billion-dollar-a-year tourist industry. He’s not about to tell the world there’s an epidemic menacing his city. And don’t ask me about the President. Is the mayor gay?
NED: If he is, like J. Edgar Hoover, who would want him?
EMMA: Have you had any of the symptoms?
NED: I’ve had most of the sexually transmitted diseases the article said come first. A lot of us have. You don’t know what it’s been like since the sexual revolution hit this country. It’s been crazy, gay or straight.
EMMA: What makes you think I don’t know? Any fever, weight loss, night sweats, diarrhea, swollen glands, white patches in your mouth, loss of energy, shortness of breath, chronic cough?
NED: No. But those could happen with a lot of things, couldn’t they?
EMMA: And purple lesions. Sometimes. Which is what I’m looking for. It’s a cancer. There seems to be a strange reaction in the immune system. It’s collapsed. Won’t work. Won’t fight. Which is what it’s supposed to do. So most of the diseases my guys are coming down with–and there are some very strange ones–are caused by germs that wouldn’t hurt a baby, not a baby in New York City anyway. Unfortunately, the immune system is the system we know least about. So where is this big mouth I hear you’ve got?
NED: I have more of a bad temper than a big mouth.
EMMA: Nothing wrong with that. Plenty to get angry about. Health is a political issue. Everyone’s entitled to good medical care. If you’re not getting it, you’ve got to fight for it. Do you know this is the only country in the industrialized world besides South Africa that doesn’t guarantee health care for everyone? Open your mouth. Turn over. One of my staff told me you were well-known in the gay world and not afraid to say what you think. Is that true? I can’t find any gay leaders. I tried calling several gay organizations. No one ever calls me back. Is anyone out there?
NED: There aren’t any organizations strong enough to be useful, no. Dr. Brookner, nobody with a brain gets involved in gay politics. It’s filled with the great unwashed radicals of any counterculture. That’s why there aren’t any leaders the majority will follow. Anyway, you’re talking to the wrong person. What I think is politically incorrect.
NED: Gay is good to that crowd, no matter what. There’s no room for criticism, looking at ourselves critically.
EMMA: What’s your main criticism?
NED: I hate how we play victim, when many of us, most of us, don’t have to.
EMMA: Then you’re exactly what’s needed now.
NED: Nobody ever listens. We’re not exactly a bunch that knows how to play follow the leader.
EMMA: Maybe they’re just waiting for somebody to lead them.
NED: We are. What group isn’t?
EMMA: You can get dressed. I can’t find what I’m looking for.
NED: (Jumping down and starting to dress.) Needed? Needed for what? What is it exactly you’re trying to get me to do?
EMMA: Tell gay men to stop having sex.
EMMA: Someone has to. Why not you?
NED: It is a preposterous request.
EMMA: It only sounds harsh. Wait a few more years, it won’t sound so harsh.
NED: Do you realize that you are talking about millions of men who have singled out promiscuity to be their principal political agenda, the one they’d die before abandoning. How do you deal with that?
EMMA: Tell them they may die.
NED: You tell them!
EMMA: Are you saying you guys can’t relate to each other in a nonsexual way?
NED: It’s more complicated than that. For a lot of guys it’s not easy to meet each other in any other way. It’s a way of connecting–which becomes an addiction. And then they’re caught in the web of peer pressure to perform and perform. Are you sure this is spread by having sex?
EMMA: Long before we isolated the hepatitis viruses we knew about the diseases they caused and had a good idea of how they got around. I think I’m right about this. I am seeing more cases each week than the week before. I figure that by the end of the year the number will be doubling every six months. That’s something over a thousand cases by next June. Half of them will be dead. Your two friends I’ve just diagnosed? One of them will be dead. Maybe both of them.
NED: And you want me to tell every gay man in New York to stop having sex?
EMMA: Who said anything about just New York?
NED: You want me to tell every gay man across the country–
EMMA: Across the world! That’s the only way this disease will stop spreading.
NED: Dr. Brookner, isn’t that just a tiny bit unrealistic?
EMMA: Mr. Weeks, if having sex can kill you, doesn’t anybody with half a brain stop fucking? But perhaps you’ve never lost anything. Good-bye.
BRUCE: (Calling from off.) Where do I go? Where do I go?
(BRUCE NILES, an exceptionally handsome man in his late thirties, rushes in carrying CRAIG, helped by MICKEY.)
EMMA: Quickly–put him on the table. What happened?
BRUCE: He was coming out of the building and he started running to me and then he . . . then he collapsed to the ground.
EMMA: What is going on inside your bodies!
(CRAIG starts to convulse. BRUCE, MICKEY, and NED restrain him.)
EMMA: Gently. Hold on to his chin.
(She takes a tongue depressor and holds CRAIG’s tongue flat; she checks the pulse in his neck; she looks into his eyes for vital signs that he is coming around; CRAIG’s convulsions stop.)
You the lover?
EMMA: What’s your name?
BRUCE: Bruce Niles, ma”am.
EMMA: How’s your health?
BRUCE: Fine. Why–is it contagious?
EMMA: I think so.
MICKEY: Then why haven’t you come down with it?
EMMA: (Moving toward a telephone.) Because it seems to have a very long incubation period and require close intimacy. Niles? You were Reinhard Holz’s lover?
BRUCE: How did you know that? I haven’t seen him in a couple of years.
EMMA: (Dialing the hospital emergency number.) He died three weeks ago. Brookner. Emergency. Set up a room immediately.
BRUCE: We were only boyfriends for a couple months.
MICKEY: It’s like some sort of plague.
EMMA: There’s always a plague. Of one kind or another. I’ve had it since I was a kid. Mr. Weeks, I don’t think your friend is going to live for very long.