'Next to Normal': meaningful, riveting
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company's current production of "Next to Normal," directed and choreographed by Michael Berresse, is meaningful, riveting theater. We may never fully understand what it is like to stand in another's shoes, but this production, with over 70 scenes presented in just under two hours, forces us to take notice.
We first encounter the family at home, as they are rushing off to work and to school. All appears, well, normal. It quickly becomes apparent that the wife and mother, Diana, is struggling again with a mental disorder, replete with hallucinations. Her husband, Dan, and daughter, Natalie, try to cope, each in their own way. Dan seeks the help of a new psychiatrist, who recommends electro-shock therapy as an alternative to the mind-numbing prescription drugs resented and discarded by Diana. Natalie finds solace in the music rehearsal rooms at school and there meets Henry, a fellow student and bit of a stoner, who is attracted to Natalie and recommends that she smoke some weed.
At last Thursday's preview, Heidi Blickenstaff offered a powerful, unvarnished performance as the troubled Diana. Her clear phrasing also served the pulsating rock music score by Tom Kitt well. Aaron Ramey played Diana's spouse, Dan, as a lovable lug, but one, who, for better and for worse, hung in there. Ramey's baritone, assigned more conversational songs, was not pleasing but always convincing.
Margo Seibert did not sugarcoat her performance of the neglected, over-achieving daughter, Natalie, who could be alternatively confrontational and aloof to those closest to her. Etai BenShlomo let the audience come to know that Natalie's thankless boyfriend, Henry, was indeed a keeper.
Dan DeLuca, last seen by Weston audiences as the title character in last season's "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," gave an energetic turn as the illusory Gabe, whose memory continued to haunt Diana and threaten her life at home. David Ayers was fine as the pharmacologist and psychiatrist in whom Diana and Dan place their trust.
The set by Scenic Designer Timothy R. Mackabee, which was essentially the mundane interior of a split-level home that doubled as the doctors' offices, helped the audience to empathize with Diana, Dan and Natalie. "Next to Normal" tells a story about a family that needs to hear encouragement to make it through each day. As mother and daughter sing in a particularly touching number, they appreciate that their lives will never be normal, but something "next to normal" would be okay.
Performances of "Next to Normal" continue at the air-conditioned Weston Playhouse through July 27. For tickets, call 802-824-5288 or visit online at www.westonplayhouse.org.
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