The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer Is a Hard and Honest Story of Panic, Resolve, Fear, and Genuine Love

“This production is part of a three-pronged effort to bring to public awareness the continuing health issues surrounding AIDS by Burning Coal Theatre Company, the United Arts Council of Wake County and Raleigh, and the Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina…,” according to the program for Burning Coal Theatre Company’s production of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. The play, which opened Friday night at the Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh, NC, has been around since 1985, but took until 2011 to make it to Broadway.

The Normal Heart is considered an autobiographical play, describing events of real people under assumed names who really acted to raise the awareness of the deadly disease which was becoming noticeable throughout New York City’s gay population. It concerns several approaches to heightening the awareness of a disease which as yet had no name, nor etiology. It is a hard and honest story of panic, resolve, fear of the unknown, and genuine love.

Emily Ranii, a well-rounded Burning Coal director since 2002, has chosen a flawless cast to tell this powerful story. She keeps the action tight and the scene changes, accomplished by the performers, smooth and quick. Working on a virtually bare stage with merely six pieces of furniture allows the show to explode with frantic human action and emotions. Sound director David Ranii enhances the sense of urgency with driving, but not at all intrusive, music that invites even more edginess.

Marc Geller), an Equity actor who earlier in the season played double roles in Burning Coal’s Darkside, plays Ned Weeks, the central character in what is very much an ensemble effort. Geller brings the avid intensity of a fanatic to the role. He is relentless, with a desperation that is infectious.

Felix Turner, played by Preston Campbell, is a fashion writer for The New York Times. He plays the role with suavity, but displays the timidity of inner conflict.

Bruce Niles, a former Green Beret, closeted and rational, is performed by Byron Jennings II, who shows the stability and straight demeanor which is the reason the group appoints him president of their activist organization.

Mark Filiaci does Ned’s brother Ben, a lawyer who gives only lip-service to his half-hearted support of his gay brother although he also shows that he loves him.

Julie Hall Oliver plays Dr. Emma Brookner, a polio victim in a wheel-chair for life, and an important factor in research into this virtually unknown disease, and waking the medical world up to its existence. Oliver expresses her role with determination and urgency, continually frustrated at the lack of interest by the rest of the medical world.

Tommy Boatwright, a very young gay man, is taken on by Cody Hill through a beautiful arc as we see him grow from naive kid, gaga over discovering his sexual bent, to adult dealing with a harsh and dangerous world. It was a joy to watch him evolve.

Michael Babbitt takes on the role of Mickey Marcus, with a volatility that borders on fearsome. A sympathetic character, capable of sudden outbursts and long rants, handled by Marcus with range and restraint.

David Hudson and James Merkle handle numerous roles, presenting different characters with different dimensions.

We strongly recommend this show because, for one thing there are currently 1.2 million people in America living with AIDS. Millennials especially may be unaware of the plague that swept America in the mid 1980’s through the mid-1990’s, until ameliorative drugs were invented, nor that over 30 million cases exist worldwide.

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 20th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks:; and Jan. 17th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 20th Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents THE NORMAL HEART at 2 p.m. Jan. 21, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25-27, 2 p.m. Jan. 28, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1-3, and 2 p.m. Feb. 4 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St. Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except “Pay-What-You-Can” Performance on Sunday, Jan. 21st; $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain); $15 Thursdays; and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or

SHOW: and


2017-18 SEASON:



NOTE 1:The 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21st, show is a “Pay-What-You-Can” Performance.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Sunday, Jan. 21st, performance.

NOTE 3: There will be talkbacks with cast and local subject-matter experts following certain performances. Please click here (and scroll down) for the talkback schedule and names of the experts.


The Normal Heart (1985 Off-Broadway and 2011 Broadway autobiographical play): (Samuel French Inc.), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (Studio 180 Theatre in Toronto, ON).

Larry Kramer (Bridgeport, CT-born playwright and activist, 1935-present): (Encyclopædia Britannica), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Emily Ranii (director and Boston University College of Fine Arts Academic Program Head, BU Summer Theatre Institute, in Boston, MA): (Burning Coal bio), (Boston University bio). (Internet Movie Database), and (Facebook page).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.