"If anything, this play is very much alive," Levy says. "It's full of passion and outrage and a lot of humor."
The Fountain's production of "Normal Heart" almost didn't happen. In late 2011, Levy had been looking to direct a new project. He was hoping for something political and romantic at once. For more than a year and a half, he re-read plays from his personal library, poured over new scripts, solicited commissions. Nothing grabbed him until last summer, while in Washington directing a reading at the Kennedy Center, he caught the Broadway production of "Normal Heart" on tour at the Arena Stage.
"I was sitting there and literally, 10 minutes into the play, I went: 'This is what I've been looking for!'" he says. "I was a mess by then end of the show — emotional, charged, outraged."
But when Levy tried to acquire the stage rights, he found out they weren't available. It wasn't until March of this year, after many phone calls from Levy to New York producer Daryl Roth, who manages the play's rights, that the director got the clearance to stage "Normal Heart" in Los Angeles.
Kramer himself and "Normal Heart" are undergoing a resurgence of attention. In addition to the Fountain's revival, an HBO movie starring Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo is currently in production, with Ryan Murphy directing.
Kramer, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1992 for his play "The Destiny of Me," received a 2013 Pen Literary Award for "Playwright in Mid-Career" and was an honoree at this year's Tony Awards for his "contribution to humanitarian or charitable causes."
In July, he married his longtime partner, David Webster, in the intensive care unit of NYU Langone Medical Center, where he was recovering from surgery.
The playwright, who first learned he was HIV-positive in 1988, wasn't available to speak on the phone to The Times about the L.A. revival of "The Normal Heart," but he did email good wishes to be passed on to Levy and the rest of the "Normal Heart" cast and crew. "It feels great!" he wrote. "Break a leg! Wish I was there with you!"
Levy says the recent attention around "Normal Heart" is no accident — with the passage of time, the play has transcended its initial political agenda and holds up as a literary work.
"In the mid-'80s, it was completely agitprop. It was all about anger, about the city's lack of response, the government's lack of response. It was all about getting our voices heard," Levy says. "It's been 30 years; people now look at the play and go, 'Oh my God, this is a really good play.' It's one of the great American plays. It's probably one of the top two or three great gay-themed plays ever written."
During the play's run at the Fountain, which sees community activism as one of its core missions, the theater will distribute educational materials about AIDS, and several associated with the production plan to participate in L.A.'s upcoming October AIDS walk.
"I feel like my job as an artist is to awaken, or reawaken, people to things," Levy says. "I want people to leave this production not going 'Oh, look what happened in 1981 and 1984'; I want people to walk out going 'Oh, my God, I didn't realize that this was still a tragedy.'"
'The Normal Heart'
Where: The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m Sundays. (Call for exceptions.) Ends Nov. 3.
Contact: (323) 663-1525 or http://www.fountaintheatre.com
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes