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The new New Rep raises the curtain on ‘The Normal Heart’

Cailin Doran and Dylan C. Wack rehearse a scene from “The Normal Heart” at New Repertory Theatre.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

WATERTOWN — Fear and confusion grip the room as worried patients wait to see a doctor.

“It’s like some kind of plague,” one of them says.

The setting is the Black Box Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, and these are actors rehearsing a scene from New Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Normal Heart.”

Although Larry Kramer’s play about the AIDS epidemic debuted nearly 40 years ago, those conversations resonate profoundly in this post-COVID world. While our familiarity with the fear of the unknown offers a way into the story, director Shira Helena Gitlin says the drama speaks to audiences on several levels.


“The exact same rhetoric is being pushed today,” Gitlin says. “The play explores a community that has been enjoying its freedom, doesn’t want to go back in the closet, but can’t make up its mind about how to come together.”

The rehearsal room, the director says, is a great microcosm, because the cast is multigenerational and offers different perspectives and experiences.

“So many young people have no idea what happened in the ‘80s,” Gitlin says. “At the same time, today we are being bombarded by ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ while some people cling to the idea that if they just assimilate, everything will be fine. Today, after the challenges of COVID, there are so many similarities with people who want to play it safe while others are determined to live their full lives.”

Director Shira Helena Gitlin observes a rehearsal of “The Normal Heart."Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

“The Normal Heart” (June 21-July 9) is the first play of New Rep’s more traditional stage season, but the leaders of the newly reorganized company are quick to point out that it’s not their debut. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the arrival of the pandemic in 2020, and the departure of artistic director Michael Bobbitt in 2021 to lead the Mass Cultural Council, acting artistic director Bevin O’Gara gathered a diverse group of nearly 50 artists and designers for a series of conversations about the role New Rep could play in the community.


The company staged the Watertown Historical Moving Plays outdoors; offered virtual theater; spaced out audience members in the mainstage auditorium for cabaret and concert performances; and created “Solo Moments” performances. Now it’s returning to plays with a season that, after “The Normal Heart,” includes “A Raisin in the Sun” and the world premiere of “DIASPORA!”

“We are trying to find a balance,” says Angelica Potter, New Rep’s director of organizational transition. “We have longtime subscribers who go back to [the theater’s origins in Newton], and we also want to connect to our community, reach out to more Watertown residents and businesses, and let them know there is a theater in their town.”

After O’Gara’s curated conversations, the board invited Potter, Maria Hendricks, Michael Hisamoto, and Lois Roach to form a “collaborative, co-lateral” model of leadership.

“I like that descriptor,” says Hendricks, “because it reflects our diverse viewpoints, allows us to play with different initiatives, develop new works, offer platforms for underrepresented voices, and discover local talent.”

“We are a group of dreamers who call Boston our artistic home and want to figure out how we can make this a sustainable artistic community while also cultivating a culture of taste for new plays and playwrights,” says Hisamoto.

“We have kind of a symbiotic relationship,” says Hendricks. “We bounce things off each other, but because we come from different experiences, we bring new ideas and then discover places that overlap.”


“We work collaboratively, but we all bring different skills and talents to the table,” says Roach, who is directing “A Raisin in the Sun” (Sept. 5-Oct. 1).

“Sometimes, to make a change in the world you have to see it,” she says. “All three of the plays we’ve chosen speak to a particular moment in time.”

“A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry’s classic, debuted on Broadway in 1959. The play depicts the Younger family’s struggle with racism and assimilation. “DIASPORA!” (Sept. 12-Oct. 15), which will run in repertory with “Raisin,” is a world premiere by Phaedra Michelle Scott about a woman tracing her family history, which leads her to the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury at the time when Martin Luther King Jr. was preaching there.

With the plays running in repertory, Roach and “DIASPORA!” director Pascal Florestal are sharing cast members.

“We want to inspire audiences to see these actors in different roles,” says Roach.

“Theater is where you get fed,” she says. “We want to keep talent here, contribute at every level to the community, and invite more people to come in and enjoy these stories.”

Seven plays and musicals to debut

The second annual Boston New Works Festival, presented by Moonbox Productions, will take place June 22-25 across five stages in the Calderwood Pavilion and the Boston Center for the Arts. The seven new works by local playwrights include three musicals and four original plays: “The F&L at 1330,” by Ken Green; “The Juke: A Blues Bacchae,” by Regie Gibson; “Glory,” by David Reiffel; “honeyhole,” by Erin Davis; “La Lengua No Tiene Hueso,” by Gabriela Tovar; “Once Upon a Carnival,” by Angele Maraj and Brianna Pierre; and “SWAN,” by Sophie Kim. For a full schedule, go to or call 617-933-8600. Pay-what-you-can tickets are available at the box office.



Presented by New Repertory Theatre. At Black Box Theatre, Mosesian Center for the Arts, Watertown. June 21-July 9. $30.