Coinciding with National LGBTQ+ Pride Month, the Santa Fe Playhouse presents The Normal Heart, the seminal 1985 play about the AIDS crisis. Formerly California-based thespian Duchess Dale makes her Santa Fe directorial debut at its helm. Check out SFR's review or catch a performance (7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays June 15-24; 2 pm Sundays June 18 and 25. $15-$25. Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 E De Vargas St., 988-4262). We caught up with Dale on opening weekend to find out more about directing the difficult play.
What was your own experience of the AIDS panic in the 1980s?
It was a combination of not knowing enough information, and also having it be a scare tactic. It evolved to the place of 'Be careful, you can't touch someone, you can't kiss them, you can't breathe the same air.' I've always been in theater in one way or another, and in theater, there's a different understanding about this—[much of the community was] gay. There was more of a pipeline of information. Even though the information nationally was still limited, at least there was a better understanding in the theater community. The red ribbon really came from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and it became something to champion, to bring forth the awareness that was missing on the national scene. I think I had more of an expanded compassion than the average Jane or Joe. … But we had no perspective. It was just fear and misinformation.
What kind of preparation went into putting together this production?
We were fortunate with this particular production. At least two of the actors were there, in New York, at the time the play takes place. Both of them, being gay, were able to address it from a gay perspective, a theatrical perspective, and a citizen's perspective. … They were able to say, 'This is accurate, this did happen, this isn't fictional literature or a playwright expounding for poetic license.' Also, I had met with Dr. Joel Gallant at the Southwest CARE Center and did research from the medical standpoint. Any of the questions that came up from the cast, we were actually able to answer. I mean, it's nice to do historical research and the internet is hugely valuable for that, but it was different to have one of our actors who lost his partner to AIDS. That creates a whole different energy about what we were approaching. There was a real openness and vulnerability that the cast was willing to share.
What was the most difficult thing that you and the cast encountered?
When you do a historical piece, you're representing accurate words and people and situations. … It created an odd dynamic; it would be surreal to say certain things. One of my favorite lines that gives me chills is from the character Mickey, in the breakdown he has in act two. He says, 'They are going to persecute us! Cancel our health insurance. Test our blood to see if we're pure. Lock us up. Stone us in the streets.' We're not just saying lines. This is a real situation right now, and that has a resonance to it, rather than just saying dialogue. What made it difficult was to make the dialogue honest and accurate, authentic to the play, and authentic to the actor … so that they were speaking truth.