In the powerful revival of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, villains abound: there’s institutional homophobia fed by a conformist über-het society; New York’s red-tape bound local government led by a bachelor mayor rumored to be gay (Ed Koch, though never mentioned by name—oh, those pesky libel laws); the gay community adrift in a sexual roundelay of bathhouses and one-night stands, too self-hating to believe themselves worthy of true love, too besotted by its own sexual entitlements to understand how their clandestine exchange of bodily fluids are killing them.

Welcome to the 1980s, which still resembles 2011: the horrific age of AIDS is back, as alive on the stage of the John Golden Theater as it was in New York City during the mother of all health crises.  Larry Kramer’s incendiary cry of the heart (shocking that this is its first revival since its initial run at the Public Theater in 1985, the longest running play in that organization’s history) uncoils like a sci-fi murder mystery (yes, many of us believe murder is the right word), and still burns with outrage, epitomized by its Cassandra-like protagonist/antagonist Ned Weeks (played by the superb Joe Mantello), a gay Jewish man galvanized to action by the puzzling deaths of his friends and a legacy of outsider injustices spiraling back to the Holocaust.  He’s ably supported by Mark Harelik as his lawyer brother, a straight man who loves his sibling but conditioned to see him as less-than-equal, and John Benjamin Hickey as Ned’s closeted lover, a NYT styles writer who movingly embodies the disease’s toll in an exquisite distillation of personality and psychology that every gay man will recognize.  Lee Pace, Patrick Breen, Richard Topol, Luke Mcfarlane and Jim Parsons contribute laser-like portraits of men who are literally fighting for their lives, spurred to action by the horrors they witness under the watch of an indifferent government and society; David Rockwell’s set provides a visual joint with its mounting tally of the names of the dead.  The Normal Heart still has a lot to say, and it does so intelligently, with great eloquence and passion.  Its time, sadly, is still now.  See below for an excerpt from W.H. Auden’s poem September 1, 1939, from which this play derives its title.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

The Normal Heart is at the John Golden Theater, 252 West 45th Street, now through July 10.  Photos by Joan Marcus.