Director Bart Guingona Talks About The Normal Heart


The Normal Heart
L-R: Jef Flores, Red Concepcion, Roselyn Perez, Bart Guingona, Richard Cunanan

More than staging a play, The Normal Heart calls for furthering HIV-AIDS awareness.

Fresh from its 10 nominations and 4 wins at the 8th Philstage Gawad Buhay Awards, The Necessary Theater’s staging of activist and playwright Larry Kramer’s largely autobiographical Tony Award-winning piece about the rise of HIV and AIDS in 1980s New York is returning to the spotlight and finding its new home at PETA Theater Center this June.

The previous production bagged the Gawad Buhay Awards for Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Play, Outstanding Production of Existing Material, and Outstanding Stage Direction. Meanwhile, Roselyn Perez who plays polio-stricken Dr. Emma Brookner won Outstanding Female Featured Performance.

The Normal Heart
AWARENESS ALLIES. Ned Weeks (Bart Guingona) and Dr. Emma Brookner (Roselyn Perez) sort out their personal responsibilities in their fight to have their voices heard by the New York government in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart.

(READ: The Normal Heart Beats at the PETA Theater Center)

Advancing Advocacies

The Normal Heart finds Jewish-American writer Ned Weeks (Guingona) rallying to pull together an organization focused on raising awareness about an unidentified disease killing a specific group of people in 1980s New York: gay men.

“Although set in the early eighties New York, The Normal Heart talks about universal issues such as the political nature of health care and of activism as a necessary factor in effecting change,” said director and lead actor Guingona. “It is also an opportunity to sound the alarm bells for the growing HIV crisis among our youth.”

Guingona told Theater Fans Manila that he got concerned when he knew about the spike in the statistics of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines without the public’s knowledge. He immediately recognized the similarities of Manila in 2015 (the first staging of the play) and 1981 New York.

“I thought that it would be good to stage the play as a cautionary tale. It has happened before in New York so why did we not learn from it? By 1987 we were having our first case here and it continued to increase. If we had learned our lesson then we would have contained it but no one was paying attention to it and so it was allowed to balloon. Staging the play was very timely and the whole indifference (in the play) had such a striking parallel to us.”

The Normal Heart
STAND STILL. Hiram Keebler (Jef Flores) is sent by a cautious New York government to talk to Ned Weeks (Bart Guingona) in an effort to diffuse the issue and not cause the public alarm.

Love Yourself, a community of volunteers that strongly advocate testing and education on HIV, is a partner in the re-staging of The Normal Heart. They will provide a discussion after every show with the audience members to discuss and process their thoughts on the piece.

The Normal Heart
PETA Theater Center Beng Santos-Cabangon addressing the press on HIV and AIDS awareness.

“The beautiful part of the play is that it shows us that stigma could really kill people. It is important that people should be made more aware where they can have themselves checked and where they can access medication for that,” said PETA Theater Center Executive Director Beng Santos-Cabangon. “It is important that people should know AIDS is not a death sentence anymore because there are medicines that could allow us to prolong the lives of people with HIV and AIDS.”

Cabangon-Santos also expressed that people have themselves checked but also create an accepting environment.

“It is important that we build a caring society that allows people to have courage to have themselves checked,” Santos-Cabangon said. “Madaming may hindi alam. Madaming nag-de-deny [mag-pa-test] simply because natatakot sila, simply because society will judge them. [We must] allow people to live a decent life. Accept people for who they are and help them develop to get healthy and grow as individuals.”

Figures, stats

As in the tradition of the New York plays, the first local staging of The Normal Heart displayed current pertinent figures and facts on HIV and AIDS in the Philippines. The stage for the New York plays were whitewashed and everywhere possible were facts, figures, names, and even articles written about HIV and AIDS set in simple black lettering.

Guingona stated that the World Health Organization (WHO) supplied them with updated statistics in the previous staging of The Normal Heart. Those figures were projected onto a minimalist stage design. This year, the WHO will continue doing so.

“There is still an urgent need to disseminate informaion,” Guingona told Theater Fans Manila, citing the increase in daily reports of cases. “Last year it was 22 a day, this year it’s 27.”

The Normal Heart will run on June 3 (8pm), June 4 (3pm and 8pm), and June 5 (3pm and 8pm) at the PETA Theater Center located at No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. For tickets log on to www.ticketworld.com.ph or call the PETA Theater Center office at (0927) 391 7379 or 725 6244 loc. 23.

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