Director George C. Wolfe on The Normal Heart
Five-time Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe directed the 2011 Tony Award–winning Broadway revival of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in an acclaimed production that went on to play at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., before arriving at A.C.T. Best known for his groundbreaking work on Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and the Broadway hits Jelly’s Last Jam, Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk, and Caroline, or Change, Wolfe also served as producer of The Public Theater from 1993 to 2005. An award-winning writer, director, producer, and actor, Wolfe was named a “living landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 1995 and was recently appointed as one of 25 leaders to serve on the President’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities.
Below is an excerpt of A.C.T. Marketing Writer Amy Krivohlavek’s interview with Wolfe, which took place shortly before rehearsals began at A.C.T. To read the entire interview, order your copy of Words on Plays.
Don’t miss this acclaimed production of The Normal Heart—playing at A.C.T. through Sunday, October 7.
Why has there been such a strong reaction to this revival of The Normal Heart?
Two things happened: people were able to discuss the play as dramatic literature as opposed to an important piece of angry political theater, which, in 1985, it needed to be, because of the emotional, personal, political stakes of what was happening. To go back and revisit the play in a completely different climate enabled everybody to appreciate what a smart, incredibly moving, and powerful play it is. And it was interesting to see how people who lived through the time period were able to have a cathartic experience –and at the same time to see younger audiences learning the play.
A friend of mine told me that, after one performance, one of his 22-year-old students came outside and cried for 20 minutes while he just held him. I love the idea that information was being passed on, and storytelling was being passed on, and history and legacy.
What was your collaboration with [playwright] Larry [Kramer] like on this production?
It was a thrilling journey. Interestingly enough, the first time Larry saw a run-through, he said to me, “I didn’t know I’d written a love story.” It was very much a play of its time, and it’s so great to look at something outside of its time and explore it as dramatic literature. It is an impassioned play and it’s a very angry play and it’s a very emotional play. It’s also an incredibly funny play, and an incredibly moving play, and a very theatrical play. So it’s really fun—not as in zany fun—but fun in that it’s smart, rigorous theater. You can’t ask for anything better than that.
You’ve compared the play to a horror film.
Well, that’s what that period during the 1980s felt like! Everybody’s fine, and then all of a sudden there’s a killer. And nobody knows what it is, nobody knows why it’s doing what it’s doing, and nobody knows how to stop it. It didn’t have a name, and you don’t know how to fight it. And so, in lieu of a weapon to fight it, the only things you can use are your emotions, your passion, your love for the people you want to protect, and your language. To me, that’s the journey of the play.
Why do think the play should be seen right now, at this moment?
It’s about someone taking a stand. I find myself very drawn to projects where someone says, “No. This is wrong.” And then they look across the room and see someone else saying, “No,” and then together they look across the room and see someone else saying, “No.” And that’s how you change the world. It’s incredibly ordinary people doing this—not everybody can be a Ghandi, or a Mandela, or a Martin Luther King, Jr. But anybody can stand up in the presence of a wrong and speak their version of truth.