Larry Kramer 1935-
Kramer is best known for his controversial 1985 drama, The Normal Heart, which garnered acclaim for its realistic, socially conscious approach to the subject of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The play is fueled by the anger of the protagonist, Ned Weeks, toward the media and public officials who are seemingly ignoring the importance of informing the American public about the AIDS epidemic. The Destiny of Me, Kramer's acclaimed 1992 sequel to The Normal Heart, continues the story of Weeks, who is now HIV positive and undergoing experimental treatment.
Kramer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of George L. Kramer, an attorney, and Rea Wishengrad Kramer, a social worker. Kramer earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1957 and then served in the army for a year. In 1958 he obtained a position with the William Morris Agency but soon moved on to Columbia Pictures. He worked in the film industry for the next decade, at Columbia and United Artists. He was the associate producer of the 1967 movie Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and produced Women in Love in 1969. Kramer wrote the screenplay for the latter film, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. Kramer's first commercially staged play, Four Friends, open and closed on the same night in 1974. Five years later his novel Faggots appeared to mixed reviews; it was often attacked in the gay community for its satirical depiction of gay promiscuity. In 1981 Kramer co-founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis in response to the burgeoning AIDS crisis, but his tenure with the group was marked by continual conflict with the other members, and he was forced out in 1983. His controversial and polemical play, The Normal Heart was staged in 1985. Two years later Kramer founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which was committed to ending the AIDS crisis. Kramer himself tested positive for HIV in 1988. His many essays about the AIDS epidemic were published in numerous periodicals before being collected in Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist in 1989, the same year his play Just Say No was staged. This work received poor reviews, but The Destiny of Me met with a favorable response and was nominated for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize. Kramer continues his involvement with writing and political activism.
Kramer's best-known work is The Normal Heart. the author's experiences as founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis inform his approach to the play, which tells the story of Ned Weeks, a character based on Kramer himself, who establishes an AIDS organization, experiences conflicts with the other members, and is eventually kicked out. The play is propelled by Weeks's anger toward the media, such as the New York Times, and public officials, including President Ronald Regan and New York City Mayor Ed Koch, for their apparent indifference to the AIDS epidemic. Often contrasted to William M. Hoffman's play As Is, which stresses the personal and emotional effects of AIDS, The Normal Heart instead emphasizes politics and rhetoric. In The Destiny of Me, Kramer's sequel to The Normal Heart, Weeks himself has tested HIV positive and pursues experimental treatment. This plot is interwoven with flashbacks of Weeks's childhood and adolescence, revealing his struggles in coming to terms with his homosexuality.
Most reviewers of The Normal Heart expressed reservations about the play's strident, polemical tone; many, however, felt that it overcame its "aesthetic weaknesses," in Gerald Weales's words, with its passion and its sense of outrage. Frank Rich, for instance, observed: "Some of the author's specific accusations are questionable, and, needless to say, we often hear only one side of inflammatory debates. But there are also occasions when the stage seethes with the conflict of impassioned, literally life-and-death argument." Similarly, John Simon maintained that The Normal Heart transcends its political argument to become "a fleshed-out, generously dramatized struggle, in which warring ideologies do not fail to breathe, sweat, weep, bleed—be human." Critics expressed similar opinions about The Destiny of Me. In a review of the sequel, David Klinghoffer stated that "as an artist, Kramer can be crude," but he added: "The power of his conviction, though, makes up for [his] lack of artfulness." Benedict Nightingale judged The Destiny of Me to be less effective and moving than The Normal Heart, while John Simon praised the dual plot structure of the play, stating, "we get, in ingenious double exposure, a coming-of-age and a coming-of-AIDS play."