Friday, February 26, 2010

Next to Normal

Next to Normal is the kind of musical not meant for the faint of heart. The rock musical deals with Diana, wife and mother struggling with depression, schizophrenia, and suicidal tendencies, played by Alice Ripley, who won the Tony Award for best actress for this dark role. Her husband, played touchingly by J. Robert Spencer, is doing his best to keep her safe and happy while juggling with his work and duties as father of the house. Their sixteen-year-old daughter, played by Jennifer Damiano, is a cynical stress case attempting to earn the attention of her mother, whose sole focus is on her older brother, played by Kyle Dean Massey.

Except that the older brother died as a baby, and the figure we see on stage is entirely in Diana's imagination, leaving her completely unable to move past her loss. What ensues is a great debate about the uses of anti-depressants, shock therapy, marriage, parenthood, and the general field of psychology. The play raises troubling questions without really answering them, and although it does end with a sense of hope, the heartache still remains.

The voices in this six-person show are, without a doubt and without exception, some of the best that I have ever heard. On the night that I saw this show in the Booth Theatre, Alice Ripley was clearly sick and having a difficult time achieving her normal sound, but the desperate hoarseness of her voice worked for the character. The set was harsh and beautiful, also consistent with the themes of the play. If you have strong feelings about medication, one way or the other, this show may bring up some volatile feelings, but I would still recommend it for the amazing voices to anyone in New York.

Friday, February 19, 2010

As You Like It

When I saw a poster on the New York subway for The Bridge Project, I was filled with memories of London and my two favorite productions of the summer: The Bridge Project's The Cherry Orchard and The Winter's Tale and wished I had the disposable income to fly back and see the second season. When I looked closer and realized that they were still in New York, I was ecstatic.

So off on a train to Brooklyn we went, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theatre, a beautifully dilapidated theatre built in 1914 that was renovated in the seventies only enough to become a functioning theatre once more, but still clearly a haunting shadow of its former heyday. The second season, consisting off As You Like It and The Tempest (the latter not opening until March), did not have the headlining names of the first season (Ethan Hawke, Rebecca Hall) but was still a beautiful ensemble with great performances.

Once again Sam Mendes has created a beautiful world with music and light. One of Shakespeare's fluffier comedies, As You Like It lacks the tragic punches of last year's plays, but Mendes chose to balance the fun and joy with darker moments, including a waterboarding interrogation scene. But where joy is concerned, the play beautifully presents love and relationship and happiness in a world that seems to glow from the inside out. Said glow radiates out of heroine Rosalind, played by the effervescent Juliet Rylance, with an ease and wit that makes her instantly lovable.

The triple wedding scene at the end can quickly become cliche, but in this production, it felt more like a very pleasant dream. I would have loved to see what parallels Mendes will draw between this and The Tempest, and would highly recommend anyone on the East Coast or with plans to be in London this summer to see them together.