Oct. 31, 2012 - Issue #889-Human Trafficking Problem
Next to Normal
Directed by Ron Jenkins
Citadel Theatre, $35 – $84
Pulitzer prize-winning musical Next to Normal begins with a perfectly charming domestic scene depicting wife and mother Diana (Kathryn Akin) in the midst of sending her family off for the day. In the throes of the first song "Just Another Day," this picturesque ideal of the American suburban lifestyle comes crashing down as Diana falls to the floor and begins to frantically assemble a line-up of several sandwiches. The opening scene sets the tone for the rest of this rock-musical in a loud way: idealized notions of normal are constantly and abruptly shattered, and it's among the splintered remains that we find the story of a bipolar woman and her family.
Diana's family—her husband and two children—are in the constant process of negotiating their lives around the emotional fluctuations of their household. It is through Diana's story, however, that the audience is exposed to the issues surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Moving songs like Diana's "I Miss the Mountains" speak to the subduing effects pharmaceuticals can have, while jarring scenes like the one depicting Diana's ECT (electroconvulsive "shock" treatments) address the concept of using controversial means to achieve a decidedly idealized end: "normal."
Amidst themes of family ties and mental illness, the plot speaks to profound grief and the difficulties associated with loss. Cory Sincennes's set design brilliantly compliments this. Blended into the two-storey household stands a glass wall used to separate the main characters from the lingering aspects of their grief—the source of which is a major surprise twist in the show. The results of separating the home in such a visual manner were quite captivating and caused the definitive nature of the house to shift relentlessly between "home" and "cage."
Throughout this storytelling rollercoaster, the music pushes the lyrics to their emotional capacity, and the cast is bursting with vocal forte. At times, there was a peculiar exchange between acting and singing, in that when one faltered, the other rose to compensate. For the most part, however, listening to the talented ensemble belt out the rock and sail through the ballads is a treat. While this particular musical might not leave you with catchy songs stuck in your head, it certainly does leave a visual, thoughtful and emotional impression.
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