The revival of Larry Kramer's seminal play has audiences cheering and sobbing on Broadway

What’s Larry Kramer doing passing out AIDS-awareness fliers in front of New York’s Golden Theatre? The outspoken playwright penned an open letter to audience members at The Normal Heart — the new Tony-nominated Broadway revival of his 1985 play about AIDS in NYC — and, originally, he asked crew members to distribute them after performances. ”But one of the guys didn’t show up one night,” explains Kramer, 75. ”So I took a stack and started doing it myself.”

Taking matters into his own hands is nothing new to Kramer. The writer and activist cofounded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1981 to combat the AIDS epidemic — only to split from the group amid controversy over his aggressive tactics. ”I’ve always wondered why there are so few people who are willing to be as visibly angry as I,” says Kramer, who used the incident as the narrative crux of The Normal Heart, a searing indictment of the powers that be during the dawn of the AIDS crisis. First staged Off Broadway at the Public Theater in 1985, the play was a call to arms for many members of New York’s artistic community. ”The Normal Heart changed the world a little bit,” says director Mike Nichols (Charlie Wilson’s War). ”Larry was the first one to start yelling about AIDS, and he didn’t quit until everyone was aware.”

The current revival — which runs through July 10 and features Joe Mantello, Ellen Barkin, and The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons — has earned strong reviews and five Tony nominations, including Best Revival of a Play. A film version is in the works, and Elton John and David Furnish are trying to bring the production to London’s West End. ”I think more people are open to receiving the play now,” says Kramer, who lives in NYC with his partner, David. ”They questioned the veracity [of it] then, and they don’t anymore.”

Today, Kramer is at work on a 4,000-page draft of The American People, a sure-to-be-controversial book in which he outs historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and George Washington (who was, in Kramer’s words, ”not only gay, but really, in essence, a queen”). After a 2001 liver transplant, the HIV-positive Kramer says his health is good — and his spirits high, thanks to the success of The Normal Heart. ”So many young people, straight and gay, are responding to the play,” he says. ”That’s the most touching thing.”

Will There Ever Be a Movie?

Barbra Streisand acquired the film rights to The Normal Heart in 1986, but a movie never materialized. In fact, she and Kramer are still fighting about it. ”Larry only wanted his screenplay [filmed],” Streisand tells EW. ”I love this play…. But I couldn’t have my hands tied artistically.” Kramer fired back, saying she ”never put her money where her mouth is.” These days the play has a new champion: Glee creator Ryan Murphy, who has attached Mark Ruffalo to star and has reportedly talked to his Eat Pray Love leading lady, Julia Roberts, about a role, though no start date has been set. ”Maybe the success of this [Broadway] production will get Ryan off his ass,” jokes Kramer. ”If that happens, it would be great.”

The Normal Heart
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