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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Crippled Critic Theatre Review: "Next to Normal" @ Artists Rep 5-8-12

It's really almost cruel, the trick that "Next to Normal" perpetrates on its audience-- the fact that it seems so innocuous at first glance... We know going in that it's about mental illness, but we are led to believe for awhile that we're talking about depression and anxiety... Even when Diana, (Sussanah Mars) makes sandwiches on the floor, she pulls-off the "oh silly me" response so well, that we allow ourselves to think that her brain must play little games with her--there's probably enough story there to sustain a musical; a family dealing with one member who isn't in full control of herself, and we all learn we are not as normal as we think we are.......

"Next to Normal" is not that musical, and sometimes things get so intense that you may wish it were....

My first exposure to Susannah Mars was one of her holiday cabarets at Artists Rep, my second was her performance as Becca in "Rabbit Hole." Seeing her in two wildly different roles made me wonder what it might be like if she combined her amazing vocal talents with the nearly palpable grief she exhibited in "Rabbit Hole". "Next to Normal" is the answer.

Diana has very vivid delusions, and she slowly sinks deeper and deeper into them. If you are not prepared to see a woman almost audibly crack in front of you, do not see this show. However, if you do possess the stamina to withstand such an emotionally exhausting experience, you are in for an exhilarating, enlightening ride.

The music assists in transporting you into raw and real madness. It's loud, sometimes blaring and you feel as though it might mirror what it feels like inside Diana's mind.

Willam Wadhams does a wonderful job as Diana's lost, flailing husband Dan, and the couple's neglected daughter Natalie is portrayed by supremely talented high school senior Meghan McCandless.

Everything is still tattered and frayed after the somewhat upbeat finale, you will likely be drained from the experience, but it is one that is worthwhile.....

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