I knew I wanted to see Next to Normal as soon as a friend in California recommended it last year. So when I saw that it was part of the Citadel Theatre’s 2012-13 season I bought a pair of tickets right away, thinking that for this show I’d probably want company. Unfortunately a cascade of complications overcame all my would-be companions, and I ended up going by myself to the last show of the run. I thought it was great. I’d been listening to the Broadway recording for a few months, before the show. When it looked like I wasn’t going to have company, I decided to protect my emotions by reading the plot summary on Wikipedia. I don’t know whether I regret that choice.
My general impression of the set was shiny. Shiny, and the opposite of cozy. The play was set in Seattle, so sometimes there were shimmery metallic representations of rainfall seen out the windows. Most of the scenes were in and around a two-story house designed by an architect, and the rest were in medical settings, so it made sense that the framework was all shiny metal trusses (probably they were polished aluminum and lit to look like chromium) and the furniture was all glass, chrome, and black leather. When I noticed the lighting, it was on the blue side. There was a shock-therapy scene emphasised by flashing lights which didn’t seem at all out of place in the rest of the set and lighting. What we saw before the play started was magical – it appeared to be a lighted house far away in a field of stars, and then somehow it looked like that faraway house became the stage set.
I was prepared for the story to be powerful and disturbing. But it was also much funnier than I expected. The protagonist Diana, played by Kathryn Akin, was witty, angry, and very likeable. The actor’s timing and body language showed the character in a wide range of mental, biochemical, and emotional states. Her daughter Natalie was also easy to identify with, while the Henry character was mostly a humorous contrast and distraction. I found the husband more self-serving than sympathetic, which certainly made the story more interesting than if he had fitted that stereotype of patient spouse.
The narrative moved quickly, with very short songs and lots of echoes and reprises, and not much dialogue between them. The voices and orchestra were good and well-balanced.
The performance at the Citadel Theatre was a co-production with Theatre Calgary, directed by Ron Jenkins.