A musical tragedy about a bipolar woman might not seem appealing to some theatergoers, but Oklahoma City Repertory Theatres well-done, emotional production of Next to Normal provides a rare respite from the inane musicals and insipid comedies.
Under the direction of Michael Jones, this musical doesnt insult the audiences intelligence. The show received a Tony Award in 2009 for best original score and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Stacey Logan plays Diana, who suffers from a wrenching mental illness. Her mannerisms and facial expressions convincingly convey someone ranging from not quite right to obviously insane.
Lane Fields is Dan, Dianas husband, and his performance is a perfect complement. Fields has been the young leading man many times over the years, and now he has matured gracefully into middle-age roles, bringing experience and authenticity. Whether mental or physical, crippling illness affects the entire family, just as it does the person whos sick.
The now upper-middle-class Dan and Diana married too young when she became pregnant with Gabe (Anderson Daniel). In her mind, Dan and the teenage Gabe vie for her affection and are rivals in caring for her.
Gabe always tries to prove that he cares about his mother more than anyone else does.
Dianas illness seriously messes up Natalie (Jennifer Hiemstra), the couples talented, smart and way-overscheduled teenage daughter. Natalie worries that maybe shell go crazy someday.
Natalie attracts Henry (Jordan Justice), an industrious stoner who makes pipes out of whatever materials, or fruits, are available. Hes an oldschool pothead with a heart o gold no faddish prescription drugs from the parents medicine cabinet for him.
In unusual roles for him, Matthew Alvin Brown plays Drs. Fine and Madden, Dianas physicians. In a dark suit and looking serious, Browns bedside manner drips with cool professionalism.
Played on Amanda Fousts versatile scenic design in steel and faux concrete, and under Art Whaleys spare, but highly evocative lighting design, Next to Normal looked industrial. None of the characters ever seem comfortable, and thats how the audience feels, grappling with the unanswerable questions that surround mental illness.