Tag Archives: Ray Paolantonio

You Have Changed Me Forever: Remembering ‘The Normal Heart’

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Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, “The Normal Heart”, Fountain Theatre, 2013.

by Tim Cummings

“Hello, you don’t know me. I hope you get this message. Sometimes, when you try to send a message to someone you’re not ‘friends’ with on Facebook, it gets blocked, or you have to ‘approve’ it. I hope you’ll approve this message if it gets to you.

 I saw The Normal Heart on Saturday night, and haven’t slept well since. My father died of AIDS in 1995. I was 15. Except he didn’t die of AIDS, he died of ‘cancer.’ Except we all knew it was AIDS because he was gay and had been sleeping around with men for years. We were a Catholic family, and so shame was tantamount to pretty much everything, especially my dad’s secret life. There were a lot of years after he died where Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and anniversaries were lonely days, hollow days where not much was said and my sister and I would sit with our mom around the table and stare at our food.

Watching you on stage, the frustration and rage, it was so palpable it cracked me open, like an egg, and I feel like I can feel again. Except now I feel a lot of rage too. I feel like the rage is taking its revenge, saying, “You ignored me for 20 years and now I own you.” I feel like you brought it into my life. It was like you were breaking barriers up there. I could feel how uncomfortable the audience was at times. Like they were afraid of you. I was too, I guess, but also relieved. I don’t know what you are doing up there, or how you manage to live the role several times a week, but I want you to know that you have changed me forever. More than the play. More than the production. YOU.

I didn’t know who Larry Kramer was before the other night, but I’ve been reading up on him and watching videos on YouTube. He wanted to change things and wake people up and he could only do it by shattering everyone around him that wouldn’t listen. He’s lucky someone like you can interpret his intentions. I will probably see the show again before it closes. For now, I’m figuring out what to do with these feelings. Like, how do I forgive my dad? How do I talk to my mom, after all these years, about what really happened? How many more people out there are just like me, waiting for something to come along and break them open? Too many innocent men died. For nothing. I think I might take boxing lessons.”

In the summer of 2013, I was 40 (and a half) years old and really taking stock of my life, as one is wont to do at 40 (and a half). I had been in Los Angeles exactly a decade at that point, and reflecting on my career as an actor: roles won, roles lost, characters deeply inhabited, their skins later shed like a snake once a show ended, reviews, awards, pounds gained and dropped again, friends made and later lost, the worry over male pattern baldness. That summer, I contemplated the possibility that the ‘acting thing’ was more of a hobby than a profession. Things had changed drastically after I moved from New York to LA. In NY, I was working on Broadway, making a living acting. I was on a good trajectory there.

Where I grew up, and in my time, theater had always felt like a great act of rebellion, a middle-finger held up high to everything normal and expected and accepted. Thespians were teased and bullied, but I prided myself on being subversive, anathema to their pack mentality and bougie normality. Theater was punk af. In LA, however, acting suddenly felt like trying to be part of the popular kids again. Clique mentality. I wanted no part of it. How will I succeed if I have no interest in playing by the rules? I’ve always hated rules. I didn’t want to be hot or muscular or skinny or alpha or tan or…commercially viable in any way. I didn’t want to do things the way they were supposed to be done. I desired to shave my head, ring my eyes with racoon-black eyeliner, cover my body in tattoos, pierce every part of me, paint like Pollock, join a band. I contemplated whomever managed to pull off “LA success” with bitter disdain and a kind of squishy envy. That’s okay—I’m not above being human. Actors are not superheroes, despite the way the media depict them and fame & fortune define them.

I happened to be perusing the labyrinthian interwebs that summer when I discovered a breakdown for The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 agit-prop manifesto about AIDS in the early-to-mid 1980s and how he and his friends banded together to create GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis). The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood was set to produce, overseen by one of the theatre’s founders and Co-Artistic Director, the outstanding Stephen Sachs. The play hadn’t been done in LA in about twenty years, and though it had been given a slick, starry revival on Broadway a few years prior, it felt, perhaps, like something that sunny, surfery Southern California had no right to consider. It’s my (arguably harsh) opinion that LA has always felt too granola (read: passive) for the righteous anger of stories birthed in New York City by New Yorkers.

Nonetheless, The Fountain had a reputation for mounting plays with a social justice bend, and Kramer’s behemoth was certainly no exception. I drafted a cordial email to the casting director asking to be seen. (I’m a firm believer that if you want something done, you do it yourself, and immediately. In other words, I wasn’t going to ask the manager to ask the agent if I had been submitted and then wait around, to neither receive a response nor an appointment time.) When casting responded to my inquiry I assumed the team would want to see me for the role of Bruce Niles, the strapping gay ex-marine. At 6’2” , broad-shouldered, and north of 200lbs, I figured it was the only role they’d consider me for. Instead, they asked me to prepare the role of Ned Weeks, the play’s antagonistic protagonist. Ned is molded out of the playwright himself, the pejorative Larry Kramer. It was the true story of him and his friends, after all, and he was going to tell it his way. It’s a colossal script, with a role as immense as Hamlet, and on nearly every page it elucidates Ned’s pushiness, outspokenness, and righteous anger.

How does an audience go on a journey, and root for, a disagreeable character?  Continue reading

Fountain Theatre Wins 3 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for ‘The Normal Heart’ Including Best Production

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Stephen Sachs, Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Jeff Witzke, Ray Paolantonio and Simon Levy.

Last night was another memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre, as our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart won Best Production of a Revival of a Play at the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. Actor Tim Cummings also took the honor of Best Lead Performance and designer Adam Flemming won Best Video Design.

The Award event was held at The Colony Theatre in Burbank and was attended by hundreds of esteemed members from the LA Theatre community.  Representing the Fountain Theatre were Co-Artistic Stephen Sachs, Producing Director Simon Levy, and publicist Lucy Pollak.  Cast members from The Normal Heart included Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Ray Paolantonio and Jeff Witzke.

“Our production of The Normal Heart was more than just producing a play,” said Sachs. “It became this powerful, moving and deeply meaningful cathartic event for the many people who came to see it and for all of us who brought it to life on stage.”

The theme for the awards show was “Family”. It was certainly another wonderful night for the Fountain Family.

For a full list of all award winners: click here

Enjoy These Snapshots from the Awards Night 

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NEW VIDEO: Acclaimed LA Production of ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Fountain Theatre

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Enjoy this new promo video for our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. Our exclusive Los Angeles revival directed by Simon Levy has earned rave reviews, overwhelming audience response, and has been extended to December 15th by popular demand.

This promo video was created by our friends and colleagues at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).  GLAAD amplifies the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.  

GLAAD’s LGBT Los Angeles theater site shares info on plays that bring LGBT characters and plotlines to life that insure accurate depictions of LGBT people and issues.

The Fountain Theatre production of The Normal Heart has been hailed “brilliant” and “outstanding” and a “must-see”. It is highlighted as a Critic’s Pick and is Ovation Award Recommended. Broadway World exclaims, “This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theatre is alive and well in Los Angeles.”

The cast features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Stephen O’Mahoney, Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

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Extended to Dec 15th! (323) 663-1525 Get Tickets Now!

Post-Show Talkback on AIDS Prevention at ‘The Normal Heart’ This Thursday Oct 17

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Special Guests from LA Unified School District HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit to Discuss AIDS and Young People

This Thursday, Oct. 17, immediately following the 8 p.m. performance of The Normal Heart at The Fountain Theatre, guest speakers Timothy Kordic, Project Manager of the LAUSD HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit, and Nancy Ramos, Positively Speaking Facilitator, will host a special talkback with high school students and audience members about the reality of AIDS in 2013 and living with/preventing the disease. Director Simon Levy will moderate the discussion.

The Normal Heart is Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama about public and private indifference to the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man’s fight to awaken the world to its urgency. The title of the play is taken from a line in a poem by W.H. Auden.

The Fountain Theatre is committed to reaching as many high school and college students as possible with the show. According to Advocates for Youth (www.advocatesforyouth.org), a national organization that champions efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health, almost 40 percent of new HIV infections in the United States occur in young people ages 13 to 29. This generation is also the first one to have never known a world without AIDS.

“I think it is important to educate our youth on the effect HIV had in the past and why the AIDS movement historically gained so much traction early on,” says Kordic. “It now needs to be put into perspective for this generation why the fight is not over.”

Special $12 student tickets are available for the Oct. 17 performance only. (Student discount is regularly $25.) The talkback is included in the ticket price. Mention “LAUSD” when calling to make reservations in order to get the reduced price. Adult tickets are $34.

The Normal Heart is directed by Simon Levy and features Verton R. BanksBill BrochtrupTim CummingsMatt GottliebFred KoehlerStephen O’MahoneyRay Paolantonio, Lisa PelikanDan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

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Smash Hit ‘The Normal Heart’ Extends to Dec 15 at Fountain Theatre

Tim Cummins, Bill Brochtrup in 'The Normal Heart'.

Tim Cummins, Bill Brochtrup in ‘The Normal Heart’.

“This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theatre is alive and well in Los Angeles. “

– Broadway World

The Fountain Theatre’s exclusive L.A. revival of The Normal Heart, which received extensive critical acclaim and has been playing to sold-out houses, will extend through Dec. 15. The Normal Heart is Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama about public and private indifference to the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man’s fight to awaken the world to its urgency. Although it first premiered in 1985, the play was so ahead of its time that many of the core issues it addresses — including gay marriage, a broken healthcare system and, of course, AIDS — remain strikingly relevant today.
Verton R.Banks, Stephen O'Mahoney, Fred Koehler

Verton R.Banks, Stephen O’Mahoney, Fred Koehler

In its “Pick of the Week” review, the LA Weekly calls the Fountain revival “A deeply moving production… performed by a deeply committed ensemble.” BroadwayWorld says, “Critic’s Pick… directed with meticulous detail …. The Fountain Theatre knocks [it] out of the Park.” EDGE Los Angeles raves, “Passionate and powerful… the Fountain’s thoughtful and moving production of this classic qualifies as a must-see,” and LAist finds The Normal Heart to be “A strong, smart, character-driven play… a theatrical triumph for all involved, and a must-see for all theatre lovers.”

In 2000, The Normal Heart was named “one of the 100 greatest plays of the 20th century” by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. The Fountain Theatre production marks the first time the play has been seen in Los Angeles in over 16 years.

The Normal Heart is directed by Simon Levy and features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Stephen O’Mahoney, Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

Performances continue at the Fountain Theatre through Dec, 15.  For reservations and information: 323-663-1525 www.FountainTheatre.com.

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: The Normal Heart 

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PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Opening Night Party for ‘The Normal Heart’ at Fountain Theatre

Tim Cummings

Tim Cummings

The Fountain Theatre’s thrilling and explosive LA revival of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart officially opened on Saturday, September 21, to a thunderous and heartfelt standing ovation. The Normal Heart continues to Nov 3rd. 

After the Opening Night performance, a catered reception was held upstairs in the Fountain cafe. The audience, cast and company enjoyed food, drink and the intoxicating buzz of knowing they just shared a truly extraordinary experience.

Enjoy These Snapshots from the Opening Night Party! 

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The Normal Heart  Now to Nov 3 (323) 663-1525  MORE

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Tech Weekend for ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Fountain Theatre

Tim Cummings and Stephen O'Mahoney

Tim Cummings and Stephen O’Mahoney

Tech weekend is that magical time for any production when the technical elements of set, lights, sound, costume and video are layered in to add the many vibrant dimensions they bring.  It can also be a slow, tedious time for actors as cues are meticulously created by the design team and director. The key components to any successful tech weekend are patience, good humor, and plenty of donuts. 

Enjoy these snapshots from our tech rehearsals this weekend. Our upcoming Los Angeles Revival of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer opens this Saturday night, Sept 21st. Directed by Simon Levy, the play features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler,  Stephen O’Mahoney,  Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked, and Jeff Witzke. 

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The Normal Heart  Sept 21 – Nov 3  (323) 663-1525   MORE

Exclusive LA Revival of Larry Kramer’s ‘The Normal Heart’ Opens Sept 21 at the Fountain Theatre

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup at first rehearsal.

Fueled by love, anger, hope and pride, a circle of friends struggles to contain a mysterious disease ravaging New York’s gay community. Simon Levy directs the exclusive Los Angeles revival of Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama about public and private indifference to the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man’s fight to awaken the world to its urgency. The Normal Heart opens Sept. 21 at the Fountain Theatre.

Not seen in L.A. for over 16 years, The Normal Heart remains one of the theater’s most powerful evenings ever. It was so ahead of its time that many of the core issues it addresses — including gay marriage, a broken healthcare system and, of course, AIDS — are just as relevant today as they were when it first premiered nearly 30 years ago.

“What’s wonderful about this play is that it’s a passionate reminder that we must always keep fighting for what we believe in, that we must never let injustice go unanswered,” says Levy.

Bill Brochtrup

Bill Brochtrup

Loosely autobiographical, The Normal Heart takes place in New York City in 1981. Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly Award-winning actor Tim Cummings (Rogue Machine’s The New Electric Ballroom), stars as writer and activist Ned Weeks, whose doctor (LADCC award-winning Lisa Pelikan, The New Electric Ballroom) tells him he must convince everyone he knows to stop having sex or they’ll die. The play follows Ned and a core group of friends Verton R. Banks (NAACP Theater Award-winner for Butterflies of Uganda),Bill Brochtrup (ABC’s NYPD Blue, Showtime’sShameless), Matt Gottlieb (The Grapes of Wrath at A Noise Within),  Fred Koehler (CBS’s Kate & Allie, HBO’s Oz), Stephen O’Mahoney (Harvey at the Laguna Playhouse), Ray Paolantonio (Animal Farm, Wilhelm Reich in Hell at Son of Semele), Dan Shaked (On the Spectrum at the Fountain) and Jeff Witzke (Blank Theatre Co.’s Book Of Liz) — as they rail against a community that refuses to believe they are in danger, a bureaucracy that refuses to listen and a President who won’t even utter the word AIDS. Dismissed by politicians, frustrated by doctors and fighting with each other, their differences could tear them apart – or change the world. The title of the play comes from a poem by W. H. Auden, the last line of which is this simple truth: “We must love one another or die.”

 

Matt Gottlieb

Matt Gottlieb

When The Normal Heart premiered at New York’s Public Theater in 1985, Joseph Papp wrote, “In taking a burning social issue and holding it up to public and private scrutiny so that it reverberates with the social and personal implications of that issue, The Normal Heart reveals its origins in the theater of Sophocles, Euripides and Shakespeare. In his moralistic fervor, Larry Kramer is a first cousin to nineteenth century Ibsen and twentieth century Odets and other radical writers of the 1930s. Yet… the element that gives this powerful political play its essence, is love — love holding firm under fire, put to the ultimate test, facing and overcoming our greatest fear: death.”

In 2000, The Normal Heart was named “one of the 100 greatest plays of the 20th century” by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, and the 2011 Broadway revival earned Tony, Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Revival of a Play. A movie directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Julia Roberts is slated to premiere on HBO in 2014.

Larry Kramer recently told Playbill, “Now it’s considered a history play. Everything I said in the play has come true.”

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer is an American playwright and LGBT-rights activist. He is a founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an AIDS service organization, and ACT UP, a direct action AIDS advocacy group. His most acclaimed plays include The Normal Heart (1985) and the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Destiny of Me (1992). His screenplay for Women in Love was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969. He is the author of the novel Faggots (1978), a confrontational portrayal of gay culture, and a critical essay about the AIDS crisis, “1,112 and Counting” (1983). Kramer has also written the plays Sissie’s Scrapbook, A Minor Dark Age and Just Say No, A Play about Farce. His other books are The Tragedy of Today’s Gays and Reports From the Holocaust: The Story of an AIDS Activist. He earned his B.A. in English from Yale University. In 2013, he was honored by the Tony Awards with the Isabelle Stevenson Award for significant contribution to humanitarian or charitable causes.

Simon Levy

Simon Levy

Simon Levy was honored with the 2011 Milton Katselas Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. Directing credits at the Fountain include Cyrano (LADCC Awards for Direction and Production), A House Not Meantto Stand; Opus (LA Weekly Awards, Best Director); Photograph 51;The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (Backstage Garland Award, Best Direction); The Gimmick with Dael Orlandersmith (Ovation Award-Solo Performance); Master Class (Ovation Award-Best Production); Daisy in theDreamtime (Backstage Garland Awards, Best Production and Direction); Going to St. Ives; The Night of theIguana; Summer & Smoke (Ovation Award-Best Production); The LastTycoon, which he wrote and directed, (5 Back Stage awards, including Best Adaptation and Direction); and Orpheus Descending (6 Drama-Logue awards, including Best Production and Direction). What I Heard About Iraq, which he wrote and directed, was produced worldwide including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fringe First Award) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival (Fringe Award), was produced by BBC Radio, and received a 30-city UK tour culminating in London. He has written the official stage adaptations of The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon for the Fitzgerald Estate, all published by Dramatists Play Service. 

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Set design for The Normal Heart is by Jeff McLaughlin; lighting design is by R. Christopher Stokes; sound design is by Peter Bayne; video design is by Adam Flemming; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; the production stage manager is Corey Womack and the assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts.

The Normal Heart  Sept 21 – Nov 3  (323) 663-1525  MORE