It’s been 30 years since the HIV virus that causes AIDS was identified and nearly two decades since a generation of gay men was decimated by the disease. Today, the virus is commonly treated by a once-a-day drug regimens and most patients can expect to lead normal lives.
But, there’s never been a more important time to reflect on the disease and its lingering effects, argues Ed Sparan, a 50-year-old artist originally from New York who is helping spearhead the launch of the World AIDS Museum in Wilton Manors.
“Of the 6,000 cases of HIV that are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, nearly 3,000 are right here in Broward County,” Sparan points out, attributing the fact to the area’s large LGBT community.
That’s why the museum is sponsoring a staged reading of Larry Kramer’s play, “The Normal Heart,” on Friday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Broward County Main Library Auditorium, 100 S. Andrews Ave. in Fort Lauderdale.
“The Normal Heart,” winner of both Drama Desk and Tony Awards, chronicles the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City in 1985, before it had even been named.
“At that time (AIDS) was still called GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency),” Sparan, a longtime HIV survivor, explained. “The play is historical and not just a piece of theater.”
The highly anticipated film version, starring Julia Roberts and a host of other A-list Hollywood actors, is expected to premiere on HBO this spring.
The idea for a staged reading and fundraiser in South Florida came from Michael Shayne, a Palm Beach County playwright and director, who is directing the production.
“I’m a member of Toastmasters and as part of one of my speeches, I did an excerpt from The Normal Heart,” Shayne recalled. “It kind of hit me….I then approached the museum about doing it as a fundraiser.”
Like Sparan, Shayne witnessed the decline and eventual deaths of many colleagues in his hometown of Montreal, Canada.
The extent of the epidemic hit closest when a friend hosted a “goodbye” party: “Nobody quite understood it at the time, but a month or two later, he was gone.”
Shayne praised his cast, noting that like so many men of their generation, they, too, lost friends and experienced firsthand the widespread fear that struck the gay community.
“Not everybody knew — in those three years the play takes place — exactly what was happening,” Shayne said. “It resonates for them. It’s really a political story. The government didn’t want to get involved, especially under Ronald Reagan. It’s also a love story and a story of hope. We know by the end that something will come out of all of this.”
Both Sparan and Shayne hope the reading will serve as an introduction to the new museum, which is expected to open in early April.
HIV/AIDS, Sparan points out, is no longer a “gay” disease.
He argues, “It’s Haitian, Jamaican, Hispanic, Black, White, Female, Child…..”
More than 400 museums are dedicated to the Holocaust in which six million Jews perished at the hand of the Nazis. More than 36 million people have died of HIV/AIDS and this will be the one and only museum dedicated to the epidemic.
Sparan also thanked the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, their partner for the event, the first of several planned theatrical productions to focus on the impact of HIV/AIDS on both the LGBT community and the world.
If You Go
“The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer
Presented by World AIDS Museum in association with the Stonewall National Museum and Archives
Friday, Jan. 24, 6 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. staged reading
Broward County Main Library Auditorium, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale