Catching Up With John Benjamin Hickey

4.20.2011

By Bill Keith

'I wasn't aware of its impact until I was part of it in front of a live audience, and without having experienced that, I might have wondered, with absolutely no disrespect to the play, if now was the time to do it,' Hickey says. 'But the play has such extraordinary immediacy'and seems to transcend its time and place'that I think there is no better time than now. The play is also about gay marriage. It's also about health care. It's about societies who have been oppressed standing up and saying, 'No more tyranny. No more oppression.' '

Joe Mantello, now best known for his Tony-winning directing on Take Me Out, Wicked, and Assassins, costars with Hickey as Ned Weeks, returning to acting for the first time since his portrayal of Louis Ironson in the original 1993 production of Angels in America. Mantello also directed Hickey in his Broadway debut, the 1995 production of Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! The pair provide the emotional heart of the show and cement it as a love story.

'I hope our chemistry is palpable because I've loved Joe as my dear friend for many, many years, so to be able to have that built-in love and affection and sense of understanding of each other is invaluable,' Hickey says before adding, 'I think it was also such an extraordinary marriage of actor and part for Joe and Ned. It's like breathing for him. I think he'd be the first to admit he really understands Ned's hotheaded nature, and Joe's also so intelligent and so winning and so warm.'

Refreshingly, however, the parallels between Hickey and the closeted Felix aren't so easily drawn. 'I came out of school and came out as an actor when I was very young because of my heroes. It was as simple as just wanting to be a part of the cool kids' club, and to me the cool kids were Tony Kushner, Craig Lucas, John Robin Baitz and Paula Vogel, and they were all out, and they were all working and doing the kinds of things I wanted to do. I felt like if I wanted their respect, I had to stand up and be who I was.'

The Normal Heart's 12-week run begins previews on April 19 at the John Golden Theatre. For more info and to purchase tickets, head to the show's official website. The second season of The Big C premieres June 27 on Showtime.

"Like" The Normal Heart on Facebook by clicking here. If by April 27 the show has 10,000 "likes," (at the time of this posting they were at 9,100) the producers will contribute $10,000 to Freedom to Marry, dedicated to the fight for marriage equality nationwide.

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