I saw a production of Next to Normal this weekend at Theaterworks Hartford. This play examines the life of a woman with post-partem bipolar disorder and how her illness affects every person in her suburban family.
Winner of three 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Score and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, Next to Normal was composed by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey wrote the lyrics. Rob Ruggiero directed the play with musical direction by Adam Souza. A six piece live band accompanied the cast as they sung their lines.
The main character Diana played by Christiane Noll has been having hallucinations of what we learn later in the play is her dead infant son materializing as an 18-year-old, played by John Cardoza. Her husband, Dan, played by David Harris, portrayal throughout the play of frustrated support. Maya Keleher played Natalie her 16-year-old daughter who feels neglected and ignored by Diana’s illness. Nick Sacks plays Natalie’s very loyal stoner boyfriend.
While the storyline focusses on Diana’s story, the artistic direction of Ruggiero allowed the personal stories and struggles of each character in the play to shine through. This is a play about relationships as much as it is about mental illness and how these illnesses affect a whole family.
“The play successfully shows what triggers mental illness and how an individual and the people around them live in the world with that illness,” said Eric Ort, associate director. “Diana is a person first not a label, someone one can empathize with, humanitizing it.”
The play is intensely acted, mostly acting through song. In addition to singing well, Noll acts out manic and depressive states accurately. The scenes between her and her doctor played by J.D. Daw were intense and realistic as someone with bipolar disorder might question their need for treating it with a drug regiment.
While humorously making fun of drugs and their side effects, this play I do not feel is anti-medication. It ends on a hopeful note that maybe Diana will choose to take charge of her life.
Theaterworks extended its run of Next to Normal through May 14, 2017. For more information about the play in general, visit www.nexttonormal.com.