3/1 – 4/21
Is this normal?
Are you supposed to stare in utter amazement at a theatre production and forget who you are? Forget why you came? Forget that this is even a play?
Is it normal to be so absorbed in the show that you forget to breathe? That you have to remind yourself that these people on stage aren’t a real family, that these are actors, that this will be over soon? That real life is waiting outside the door?
Usually a good play gets your tears jerking somewhere near the end. But is it normal to sob after every scene? In the first act?
While the ferocity and turbulence of the Beck Center for the Arts’ presentation of “Next To Normal” could barely be contained within the four walls of their Studio Theatre, I wasn’t anxious to leave when it ended. It wasn’t over for me yet. I knew this dysfunctional family and they seemed familiar and I wanted them to get better. I never felt so betrayed by the cast’s bows as I was at the end of this show; I averted my eyes. Real people don’t bow, actors bow. These weren’t actors. This was a family.
Credit uber-director Vicky Bussert (pictured) for a next-to-perfect production, a harrowing, bone-rattling tour de force of sheer intensity. Her work as director of the Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program and its collaboration with the Beck Center is producing some of the most consistent and satisfying theatre you can buy a ticket for.
Credit music director Nancy Maier for the most tasteful, versatile and dynamic live music you’re likely to hear on a stage. Credit choreographer David Zody for a seamless, innovative, non-stop whirl of action that manifests physically the swirling, pharmacologically impaired mind of the play’s central character, played by Katherine DeBoer. Credit DeBoer for a riveting, hypnotic, magnetic performance as the mother, excruciating in it’s honesty, confusion, anger. She’s manic, she’s scared, she’s stoned. The room revolves like a spinning top around her contorted face, her wavering voice, her astounding physicality.
The imploding center of this family, we care deeply about her well-being, we travel her rocky road, we want so badly for her to get better. The rest of the cast, as brilliant as they are: the veteran and rock-solid Scott Plate as her husband, Phil Carroll as her doctor, and Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre students Chris McCarrell, a senior, and Caroline Murrah & Ellis Dawson, both freshmen, all outstandingly impressive, are but stars in the firmament around the blazing sun of DeBoer’s tragic figure. Production designer Jeff Heremann’s minimalist pill-bottle set and note-perfect costumes tell the story, set the scene and show the passing of time more effectively than a dozen Hollywood sets ever could.
The production’s not perfect: the chemistry between daughter Natalie and boyfriend Henry could be more palpable. Some words were lost in the close-miked sound mix. But these are next to trivial considering the monumental achievement of “Next To Normal” at the Beck. There is not a false note, not a faked moment all evening. Did I mention it’s a musical?
Avail yourself of the opportunity to be inside these pressurized walls while this show runs through April 21. It’s not normal that theatre should be this real.
Review by Thomas Mulready