In my opinion, the best theatre often grapples with tough issues, and “Next to Normal” is no exception. For this reason, the Tony Award-winner also garnered a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for musicals. In “Next to Normal,” the main character, Diana, is mother and wife who struggles with bipolar disorder. The play examines the effect the disorder has on her and her family as she has manic and depressive episodes, takes pills and quits them, and eventually undergoes ECT treatment (“shock therapy”). While her husband tries to be the solid rock, her teenaged daughter is falling apart also, coping with the neglect and hurt by partying. At the center of Diana’s pain is her inability to let go of her son. The musical is a roller coaster ride as much as the disorder is—the hope of things getting better, the mix of euphoria and anxiety in spinning out of control, the dark lows when the despair seems beyond repair.
Even if you haven’t experienced depression or loved someone who has, “Next to Normal” resonates as the family also deals with everyday problems of suburban life. The musical also raises questions about ethics in modern psychiatry. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. About half of the play is actually humorous, especially the interchanges between Diana and her psychiatrist.
“Next to Normal” plays thorough Nov. 11 at the Alliance Theatre. For more information, visit www.alliancetheatre.org.