Playwright Larry Kramer caused more "Heart" trouble yesterday.
Kramer, outspoken author of the AIDS drama "The Normal Heart," yesterday charged that politics caused the Kennedy Center to back off from a possible fall production of the play.
In January, Kramer caused "Heart" murmurs when he pulled the plug on the Studio Theatre's projected area premiere of the play because he couldn't have the director he wanted. A flurry of name-calling and phone-slamming ensued between Kramer and Studio Theatre Director Joy Zinoman. In February the play was performed at Baltimore's Center Stage.
Yesterday Kramer claimed that the Kennedy Center dropped the show because it was "too controversial" in light of the recent Supreme Court decision that the Constitution does not give consenting adults the right to engage in sodomy. The ruling has been construed as a major setback to gay rights.
Kramer's clamor, directed at several other Washington theaters as well, set off a bicoastal string of backstage denials, led by Kennedy Center Chairman Roger L. Stevens.
Kramer said the play was to have been staged by Arvin Brown, director of the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven.
Stevens, who was lunching in Los Angeles with Gregory Peck, said, "I haven't talked to Arvin Brown for God knows how long. I read "The Normal Heart" some time ago and never thought it was a good play. As for any commitment for the Kennedy Center to do it, we never came close, not even remotely. As far as the Supreme Court decision having anything to do with it, I don't see how that relates to the Kennedy Center at all."
Brown, in London working on a new play, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"Arvin Brown told me," said an audibly agitated Kramer on the phone from New York, "that Roger Stevens said something along the lines of: 'In view of the Supreme Court decision I'm not going to do this play, and I don't think I can get my board of directors to agree to such a controversial play.'
"This is such an unlikely result of the Supreme Court decision. One would have expected support from the theater, which is the home of protest."
Alan Wasser, general manager of theaters at the Kennedy Center, also denied Kramer's allegations.
"This notion that we turned it down because of the Supreme Court decision is silly -- the decision was made well before that . . . We turn down plays all the time, but not because of the Supreme Court."
Kramer said Martin Sheen, who played the lead role in a London production of "The Normal Heart," was to have starred at the Kennedy Center. The Long Wharf producers had been "asking him and asking him to do it," said Sheen's agent, Glennis Liberty, from Los Angeles. "And Martin told them what he tells everyone: If he could do it, he would do it. I think they're hustling it very hard."
"The Normal Heart" was originally produced by Joseph Papp in June 1985 at the Public Theater in New York. Other actors who have played the lead character include Brad Davis, Joel Grey, Richard Dreyfuss and Tom Hulce. Barbra Streisand recently purchased the film rights to the play, for which Kramer recently finished the screenplay.
Besides the Kennedy Center, Kramer has shopped around "The Normal Heart" to several other Washington theaters without success.
"I took it to Arena Stage first," Kramer said. " Arena Producing Director Zelda Fichandler turned it down, because she says she doesn't like plays that make so much noise."
Fichandler, in New York yesterday, couldn't be reached for comment, but Arena Managing Director Douglas C. Wager said, "The play was submitted and Zelda went to see it in New York. She decided that it was not something that was particularly for us to do."
After the Kennedy Center refusal, Kramer says, he also submitted "The Normal Heart" to Ford's Theatre Director Frankie Hewitt, who also declined.
"I think Larry is trying to do his best to get his play on in Washington," said Randy Johnson, a "Normal Heart" coproducer. "I think he's just more outspoken than anyone else. This flap has just added more fuel to our fire to put the play on in your city."