Next to Normal
Central Florida Community Arts
Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Donald Rupe
Starring Becca Southworth and John Gracey
Nothing says musical theater bliss like a little round of electroshock therapy. Diana (Southworth) has a daughter and a back story, but her brain now slowly unravels, and she’s eaten every pill in the pharmacy. That leaves hubby Dan (Gracey) and her teen age daughter Natalie (Deanna Quintero) to fend for themselves. Diana’s tried it all: counseling, pills, and self-loathing, but nothing has brought her back to ground. The heart of her problem is a son she lost but keeps alive as a snotty little hallucination that just won’t go away. Natalie tortures herself with Mozart as if musical discipline will bring mom back to reality, when mom can’t even pull herself together. Natalie hangs out with a free from jazzbo named Henry (Devin Skorupski) who feels classical precision takes all the fun out of jamming. True enough, but there always room for innovation in music. Naturally, Big Pharma is involved in Diana’s life and Natalie even tries a spin on the medical merry-go-round. That only upset her boyfriend, but it was a good lesson for both of them. Natalie was hanging out in clubs and bumping onto walls; frankly she’s as good a poster child for medical marijuana as I’ve seen. After a few sessions of on-stage electroshock, mom looks and feels better, but she senses something is missing. It may not help her to know what that is, but it seems the legal and moral ting to do
On a spare set with great lighting and uneven audio, we watch this unlikely musical comedy run wild. Gracey had the steely eye of man used to fixing things, but now he’s unable to find the right tool box. Diana looks flighty and scared, and never has a fun. The chemistry between Natalie and Henry has the right amount of teen awkwardness, and ghost boy Gabe (Christopher Bravo) exudes a slightly snotty rich boy attitude. As he is now only a figment of Moms imagination, he has no social norms to obey. On stage, we see an amazing lighting production (courtesy of Jake Teixeira ). Shadows tell more of the story than the actors, and I had more than a few “How the heck did he do that?” moments. This is a challenging show, and it may strike close for some of us, but as mental illness plays go, this is one of the best.