david-schlumpf-keely-vasquezMusicals are known for being exciting, fun, and uplifting, so how does a story about Bipolar Disorder, which is polar opposite becomes a musical. This is what book writer and lyricist Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt were up against when they came up with the idea of a musical for such a serious story.

Next To Normal is about one woman’s fight to manage Bipolar Disorder and the effects it has on her while still trying to live a normal life with her family. Keely Vasquez plays the role of Diana Goodman, a woman battling Bipolar Disorder after the loss of her eight-month-old son. This causes her to fall into a major depression. With medication from her doctor played by Gabriel Ruiz, Diana seems to be getting better, or is she. Spiraling between ultra-realities of what is and what could have been, she experiences discontented grief that pulls the family apart.

Her husband, Dan Goodman (David Schlumpf) loves Diana and has committed his life to help her with the struggles of Bipolar Disorder, but when years go by, and he doesn’t fully understand why she isn’t getting better, he too succumbs to battling his own grief, depression, and frustration. Their daughter Natalie (Kyrie Courter) is the only child in this two-child household. She has become belligerent towards her mother whom she feels has forgotten her, which she tells her story of neglect and despair in the song, Superboy and the Invisible Girl. Her mother’s bipolar condition has left Natalie feeling isolated from her mother’s fantasies of her lost son. Her desire to be noticed by her mother, is seen through her music, hoping that her family, especially her mother, would one day come to her recital.

david-schlumpf-liam-ohDiana bipolar conditions have put a strained in her relationship with Natalie, who feels cheated from enjoying her childhood with her mother. This feeling of being the invisible girl, causes her to fall into her own downward depression, even to the point when a boy named Henry (Alex Levy) comes into her life, she feels so detached that she pushes him away.

Both Dan and Henry are torn between staying with the ladies they love but feeling hopeless in understanding how to help them find peace in a life seeking the missing piece of normal.

Then there is Gabe. The son that lives within but yet isn’t alive. He is Diana’s pride and joy, and even though the doctors try to help her forget, Gabe is in places within her that medicine can’t cure. Diana’s desire to keep her son alive is so strong that he has grown to be a teenager. Her will to preserve Gabe’s life has caused irreconcilable damage within the family structure, and her daughter Natalie and her husband Dan realizes Diana is living within the symptoms of mania-depression can’t seem to understand; that three has never been a family of four.

With a world filled with dramas about people and families being dysfunctional on television, in motion pictures and even in the White House, why would anyone want to see another situation about a problemed life, when most can just look in the mirror. Well, director David Cromer, known for his brilliant work in A Streetcar Named Desire and Picnic does a masterful job in bringing together this play that will have audiences entranced, sitting up in their seats and longing for more. Using music to soften the pain and emotions that emerge when dealing with a subject manner like Bipolar Disorder, which most deem off-limits when it comes to providing pleasure; helped bring the audience into the conflict with love, compassion, and understanding.

kyrie-courter-alex-levyIt is a powerful play that deals with the issues of grief, suicide, drug abuse, and how doctors are only scratching the surface with their knowledge about this illness and how to effectively treat it.

With over 5.7 million people being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, which is an illness that causes periods of extreme mood swings going from euphoria to hopelessness, many would have stayed away from this subject, but kudos to Writers Theatre, David Cromer and Tom Kitt for endeavoring to bring to the stage its much needed insight about Bipolar Disorder. This, coupled with suicidal thoughts and manic highs and lows, makes it extremely difficult to handle for the person affected by the illness and those around them. With the scientific organization still at odds trying to determine the cause of this disorder, suggesting it could be hereditary or caused by a traumatic event; finding the best cure is like playing Russian roulette with the mind.

Initially hitting Broadway in 2009, director David Cromer returns to Writers Theatre with this powerful production, Next To Normal which features a typical American family inter-secrets of trauma. This musical uses well-timed humor and brutal honesty to explore how dealing with family trauma can fracture each life within the home while looking for alternative methods to remove the grief and destroy memories.

With such an odd combination of the seriousness of an illness infused within the joys of a musical, you would think that this play was a Tom Hank’s "Houston, we have a problem," failure in the making, however Next To Normal received eleven Tony Award nominations and winning three and claimed as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Who says salty doesn’t work well with sweets?

The cast of Next to Normal is blended with amazing members who have graced Chicagoland theaters with several Courter, Levy, Oh, and Vasquez making their debut at Writers Theatre. Vasquez really brings to life the character of Diana Goodman, the manic depress mother, and wife that can’t deal with a life-changing event in her life. And who doesn’t feel for Dan Goodman, played fantastically by David Schlumpf. The husband that failed has stood by his wife and has to make a choice between electrotherapy, which may bring his wife back to him and cause him to lose her forever.

Each of them plays a pivotal role that helps brings to light the amazing struggles that patients and families endure, however with the disorder of seeing the life or death battles happening today, how many more mothers will be battling depression if we don’t find a cure for the most significant illness within society; mankind itself. Maybe we can just hope for Next To Normal

The ending will make each individual in the audience feel different who wins and who loses dealing with this tragic illness of Bipolar Disorder.

Let's Play 'Highly Recommend' that you take a trip to see how a dysfunctional family is coping with becoming functional at Writers Theatre.

Writers Theatre Presents
Next To Normal
Music by Tom Kitt
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music Direction By Andra Velis Simon
Directed By Award Winner David Cromer
May 8 - June 16, 2019

Filed under: ChicagoNow

Leave a comment