Monday, July 12, 2010

Next To Me

It's not often that a musical wins the Pulitzer Prize but this year Next To Normal did just that. I finally got around to seeing it last night just one short week before the original star, Alice Ripley, departs the show. I'm so glad I saw it and a thousand times more glad I saw her. Many thanks to Chrome for helping me secure an affordable ticket.

I want to write about the show but am finding it difficult. Part of that difficulty is because it's a deeply personal show and I don't think I can write about it fully without writing about people I have agreed to keep out of this space. I know, I know, some  of you want to comment right now before you read any further about how it's my space to do with as I wish. However, I gave my word and that's the way things go and our lives intersect with a whole bunch of folk, even when we don't write on the internet and it's up to us to navigate those rapids to the best of our individual abilities. Which brings us right back to Next To Normal.

Our lives get all tangled up with other people before we sometimes even get a chance to think about it. This is a play about a family coping with the kinds of mental illness that bloggers talk about a lot. Over the course of the evening you can't help but get a real sense or at least a real reminder of the depth of those entanglements.

The two personal things about watching it I feel I can share are 1. it's the stories about families, all kinds of families, that punch me in the neck and 2. their first house had a red door.

The one thing I can't have you finish reading this without saying is that you really ought to see this play. There is something in it to touch each and every one of us and it's written so well you may not even notice you're being reached until the tentacles are wrapped around your vital organs. I cried so hard during both acts I almost couldn't keep quiet. The performances are not to be missed either. Ms. Ripley leaves the Broadway production next Sunday, takes a break and then joins the national touring cast. I believe she begins touring in November, so wherever you may be in the US (and maybe Canada) you could have the opportunity to see her. She is extraordinary. She uses her hands like a modern dancer and I can't explain why that's important but it is. She acts the hell out of that character from the moment the curtain rises until the very last note which makes for a pretty conflicting ending as far as I'm concerned. Which is not, of course, to diminish anyone else on the stage with her. It's as strong a cast as I've seen on Broadway lately and so it should be to live up to the work and Ms. Ripley's powerhouse performance.

Lest I make this piece sound like a huge emotional wank for anyone who's ever come within 10 feet of a Xanax I'll refer you again to the Pulitzer Prize. I don't care if you don't like musicals, it won this accolade for a reason, and it's not so much a musical as an opera or an operatic rendition of a classic novel or...ok, back to the intellect. I thought as I left the theatre last night that I would like to teach this play in tandem with A Doll's House. That particular Ibsen gem popped into my head about halfway through the first act right after The Wild Duck. A Doll's House is more appropriate. You could make a case for pairing it with some Chekhov, perhaps The Seagull or Three Sisters. Emotionally probably Strindberg would be the best. I found Miss Julie so disturbing I've pretty much blocked the plot so I'm just going on instinct there but I'm pretty sure it'd work. What a semester that would be: A Doll's House, The Seagull, Miss Julie and Next To Normal. You'd definitely need a Xanax after that.

Go. See. Bring a hankie. And a notebook. And your open heart. This play is for you. Yes, you. Yes. Every one of you.

1 comment: