Next to Normal
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Kim Bromley
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Alison Peltz
For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company and Theatre at Large, Encore Presentation
RUN: January 9-18, 2015
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars
(January 10, 2015)
Next to Normal is a riveting depiction of a family struggling to cope with chronically ill Diana (Alison Peltz), while navigating how to live their own lives. The day-to-day drudgery interspersed with psychotic breakdowns sends each person to their own path of despair, silently screaming pain and isolation, dying while alive. The intensity of the drama is captivating and deeply moving, reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind, flowing into passionate rock music pleas to discover what it is to live.
The music drama does not shy away from examining the colorless world of prescription medication, which stabilizes, but takes away emotion. Diana’s desperate cry that she misses the mountains and valleys of feeling cuts to the soul of what makes us human. Next to Normal follows the staggering fall of a family burdened with a wife and mother who becomes so caught up in delusion that she ceases to truly see them. Dan’s (Anthony Martinez) profession that he will never forget his vow to support her through any pain and illness is heart-rending as he too is drawn into the darkness of suffering. There is hope in the end, though still distant. Director Kim Bromley states, “It turns out that airing the pain, shedding light where it was dark, creates the most accessible path to healing.”
The minimalist Piet Mondrian inspired set could be a site specific sculpture in itself, thanks to set designer David Shirk. It is slightly taller than in the original production, to incorporate the dimensions of Spreckel’s Codding Theatre. Though starkly white, the lighting design of Patrick Taber brings it to light in washes of vivid complementary and analogous color schemes.
Alison Peltz brings a vulnerability and fire to the role of Diana, gradually giving into her delusions until finding the fortitude to take her own path. The brilliant Anthony Martinez as Dan gives the production a grounded perspective, while dealing with his own struggles as a husband and father. Julianne Thompson’s Natalie was the only weak point in the musical, as she is somewhat shrill, but her depiction of an emotional teenage girl overwhelmed with the pressures of education was exemplary. Fernando Siu as Gabe is sinister and beautiful, both Sean O’Brien (Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden) and RJ Castaneda (Henry) convey strength and presence in their roles.
Because of the subject matter, which delves into suicide, loss of a child, and mental illness, as well as adult content and language, this is not a music drama to bring children to, or those who are sensitive to intense examinations of dark material.
Next to Normal is an unforgettable evening with a family tormented by the invisible power of chronic illness, discovering that though they can never be normal, perhaps there is hope enough to live next to it.