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.

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