The Normal Heart is a militant and autobiographical text. A play performed for the first time in 1985 in the United States and written by Larry Kramer. The person who created Act Up in 1987 recounts the appearance of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York in the early 1980s. At the time, this disease had no name yet and caused a slaughter within the gay community, to almost general indifference. It took thirty-six years for this work to be adapted into French. A mission undertaken by Virginie de Clausade, also a director. “When we read it, a lot of people said to us, ‘The text is magnificent, but you’re going to empty the theaters.’ Only Jean-Michel Ribes said “Come to my place!” And indeed, we have not emptied the theaters, far from it. »
The Normal Heart in French version was first performed this fall at the Théâtre du Rond-Point (Paris 8th) – “at” Jean-Michel Ribes, therefore, accumulating critical and public success. So much so that the show resumes this Thursday, and
until April 15 at the Théâtre La Bruyère (Paris 9th). “It’s a play that speaks to you in the right place, that motivates you, when you go out, to tell the people you love that you love them, to go into battle,” says Virginie de Clausade. A piece that underlines “the need for commitment” and salutes “the fertility of anger”, she adds. Interview.
Why do you think “The Normal Heart” was not performed earlier in France?
Because there has never been a return on this pandemic. Things followed one another and as soon as we could put things under the rug we did. And then, in France, we had very strong and very committed artists: Hervé Guibert, Cyril Collard, Guillaume Dustan… Paul Vecchiali was the first to make a film on AIDS, Once More, in 1988. Maybe we had what it took in our culture not to look elsewhere and, seen like that, that the play was not staged in France in the 1990s does not seem crazy to me .
This piece is a manifesto and the story of a struggle…
It was written in 1984, when we didn’t know what was going on. It smelled bad but no one was aware of the carnage it was going to be. The characters are in a small boat in the middle of a huge storm, without having the measure of the storm. It also provides a lot of hope. The play never talks about death, it only talks about life, love, how to stay in touch with others, fighting to stay alive and the need for commitment. What upset me is that Larry Kramer explains that anger is an extremely fertile feeling. It is a spark that drives us to action. Now, if there is one thing that is politically incorrect in this world, it is anger. And in France particularly: we have humor, the second degree, cynicism, derision… but anger makes people very uncomfortable.
Is this anger one of the aspects of the text that were difficult to adapt into French?
It was the anger that appealed to me in the text. Someone take me by the hand and say “You are right to be indignant, to be revered! Go ahead, don’t try to calm down. Take it head on and do something about it, move the world with it”, it did me a world of good. And then anger is not only vociferous, it can be soft, deaf, fatal, dangerous, funny, deadly… It’s a feeling that we all have in common and which is not exercised in the same way. in one or the other. What I found difficult in the adaptation, however, was using the right words. For me, words are small enclosures of thought and if you want to transcribe an era, you must not be mistaken.
“The Normal Heart” is also an opportunity to tell the youngest what those years were like…
This is the reason why I wanted to mount this piece. This generation that we have lost, on which no one dwells, is a generation that is lacking in humanity as a whole. It was a generation that was singular, free, that had fought, that had pushed the walls, that was in the process of offering the world examples and different patterns of life. It is a generation that has been swept away, that has been mowed down and that a certain form of morality has led people to believe that they were responsible, when they weren’t. We sorely miss these people.
What feedback do you have from the public who came to see the play at the Théâtre du Rond-Point? How does he react?
It’s quite magical what happens in the room. There are stories that mend themselves. People of a certain age come to see their youth again, which happens to be those years of lead. It’s something to have your twenties clinging to these memories, I think. There are a lot of adults that we pick up at the exit like children. They are 40, 50 years old and they tell us that they had a cousin, an uncle, a godfather whom they adored as a kid and who were no longer there overnight, who died without anyone knowing why. A leaden screed arose and they grew up like that, understanding later that it was AIDS, but without it being verbalized. And then there’s the younger generation who didn’t know the story and who, like those we saw in Paris and who are all the same really less stupid and much more open-minded than we were when they age, are appalled to know that homosexuality could, at some point, be represented like this. What’s crazy is that we are talking about 40 million deaths [selon le rapport Onusida 2021, 36.3 millions de personnes sont décédées des suites des maladies liées au sida depuis le début de la pandémie] which have been completely forgotten, that is, the younger generation does not know this story or hardly knows it.
Are you afraid, in the current context, that the public will be reluctant to come to the theater?
That is a fear as soon as you set something up, with or without the Covid. We give an appointment to the public and we wonder each time if he will be there. It smells good in terms of bookings, feedback on social networks… but it’s still a bit dizzying. Afterwards, honestly, I’m not particularly freaked out. The text did so many miracles to bring us together and find a Parisian room. I believe that very humbly, we just have to cling to him, this text wants to be played. I’m not saying that in a megalomaniac way. We are only messengers, behind us there are forty million destinies to be told.