15 March, 2008

The Aftershocks Remain

It’s rare that a musical can both effectively break your heart and help heal it by the end, but Next to Normal does just that. With a cast lead by arguably the best musical theatre actress of our day (Alice Ripley, finally back in New York after an eight-year absence), this little Off-Broadway show is a perfect example of the elusive show than can both move and teach, that can break you down and build you up again.

Diana Goodman is typical suburban mom with a not-so-typical problem: manic-depression. But it’s the source of Diana’s depression -- and all the baggage that goes with it -- which makes this musical so brilliant.

With the addition of heartbreaking performances by Brian D’arcy James and Jennifer Damiano, the solid Asa Somers, and the haunting Aaron Tveit, Next to Normal touchingly portrays the problems caused by dealing with the symptoms of anxiety and depression without addressing the underlying root of the problem; giving a limbless man morphine doesn’t stop the bleeding or heal the wound, it only numbs the pain. As Diana puts it, after sixteen years of unsuccessful treatment: “What happens if the cut, the burn, the break/was never in my brain, or in my blood, but in my soul?”

In our over-medicated society, it is both heartbreaking and refreshing to see a show that reveals the dangers of jumping to pharmaceutical conclusions and moves us to consider that sometimes the only thing worse than the symptom is the cure.

1 comment: