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LIZ SMITH

Bravo for 'Normal Heart'

April 20, 1993

NEW YORK — Once the applause had stopped, once the high emotion abated slightly, the audience packed into the Broadhurst Theater on Sunday for a benefit reading of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" was nearly unanimous in agreeing that Eric Bogosian should play Ned Weeks, the role that represents the playwright, when this work finally makes it to the screen, later this year.

All the performers participating in this special event, which raised funds for the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP, were superb. But Bogosian, in a role that suited his famous confrontational brashness, really caught fire. Also singled out for particular praise were Hollywood's Harry Hamlin, who gave a tremendously moving performance--especially in recalling the terrible death of his lover . . . D.W. Moffett, as Bogosian's lover (a role he originated back in 1985) . . . David Drake, stealing every scene as the campy, "Southern bitch" activist . . . John Turturro as the activist horrified by the notion that the sexual revolution he fought for was partly responsible for the spread of AIDS . . . and the great Stockard Channing, as Dr. Emma Booker, whose final, furious monologue--raging against indifference, stupidity and homophobia--practically tore the roof off.

Based on Stockard's performance, many now suggest she take the role of Emma in the film version. However, I think it's a "given" that Barbra Streisand, who has battled for years to bring "The Normal Heart" to the screen, will play the part of the doctor. She'll also direct and produce, for Columbia Pictures.

Streisand, who made the evening's introductory remarks, wept unashamedly at play's end as she stood with author Kramer and the cast. The audience did not stop applauding and bravoing until everyone finally left the stage, a full five minutes after the show had ended.

Here's a bittersweet story I wish I did not have to write. Arlene Francis has been New York's own leading lady for years. This vivacious, gracious, adorable star was a formidable presence through all her years on the Broadway stage and as a highlight of the long-running TV hit "What's My Line?" and many another TV and radio outing. (Arlene began her career at age 16, carried around by a gorilla in Bela Lugosi's movie "Murders In the Rue Morgue.")

The other day, Peter Gabel, the son of Arlene and the late actor Martin Gabel, flew into NYC to check on his mother. She was bedridden from a fall and suffers from Alzheimer's. Says Peter: "She is now just a little old lady, but there are still flashes of the old humor."

Peter and his wife are taking Arlene back to San Francisco. We're all going to miss her.

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