Barkin made her Broadway debut playing Dr. Emma Brookner, a wheelchair-bound doctor-turned-crusader in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York, in Kramer’s “The Normal Heart,” would win the Best Featured Actress award at the Tonys in 2011.
She called Kramer’s death “a big loss.”
Barkin credits him for changing her, after calling herself a cynic and someone who didn’t believe in change. “I was very entrenched in my thinking until I met Larry,” she said.
Kramer, who wrote the play, could often be spotted at New York’s Golden Theater three to four times a week. “He would climb those steep steps (backstage to the dressing rooms) and kiss every actor,” Barkin recalls. She’d watch him head outside to the waiting fans and hand them flyers insisting they do more to help the AIDS epidemic. “It was astounding to see that,” she says.
“For six months, we’ve lived inside the power that is Larry Kramer. Every night, we fought the war. Larry did not send us into battle. He armed us with his words, his love and his almighty rage. For this, I am forever grateful and for this, I am forever changed,” Barkin says of the entire experience.
As a performer, the one thing she never wanted to do was let him down knowing he was counting on her and her performance. She points out that no one ever had to be pushed to go on stage. “We were on a mission to remember the truth. We were soldiers on that stage. We put on our armor called ‘Larry Kramer,’ and then we ripped it off in front of the audience.”
She credits Kramer for giving her the greatest professional and personal experience of her life. After winning the Tony, it was Kramer who cried tears of joy for her and was by her side calling her win “a big deal.”
Kramer was known as an outspoken AIDS activist and to that, Barkin remembers a quote from Senegalese filmmaker, Ousmane Sembène, “My rage is my art. My rage is my freedom.” “I hear that and think of Larry Kramer,” Barkin says fondly. “He taught us our voices do matter.”