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The Rousuck Review: "Next to Normal" at Center Stage

Center Stage

J. Wynn Rousuck reviews the musical Next to Normal, which continues at Center Stage through November 16. 

 The Rousuck review of "Next to Normal" at Center Stage.  

Center Stage’s production of Next to Normal has a magnificent set, a pulsating band and power-packed performances. It’s the third production I’ve seen of this 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, but what truly sets Center Stage's version apart is its perspective.

Composer Tom Kitt and librettist Brian Yorkey have written a musical about a woman struggling with mental illness. Diana, a middle-aged wife and mother, is severely bipolar, delusional, suicidal. 

Both times I’ve seen the show before, I felt I was observing Diana’s story – the story of a woman who suffered a great tragedy years earlier and has been haunted by it ever since. But when I watched director David Schweizer’s interpretation at Center Stage, for the first time, I felt I was experiencing this story from inside Diana’s roiling brain. 

Ariela Morgenstern’s Diana furiously insists that her caring husband can’t know what she’s going through, and the audience feels her searing, agonized cry.

When Diana’s daughter’s boyfriend joins the family for a “normal” dinner at home, the table and chairs spin like an amusement park ride. No sooner does the motion stop than piercing white light fills the stage, with vertical bars of red light bulbs on either side. Diana’s mind is so over-stimulated, it can’t separate reality from illusion.

Next to Normal isn’t just about Diana’s illness. It’s also about that illness’ impact on the rest of the family, especially teenaged daughter, Natalie, played by an appropriately youthful Kally Duling. Natalie feels lost and overshadowed by her elusive older brother and rendered invisible by her mother’s seemingly endless psychiatric treatments.

--  J. Wynn Rousuck

On Friday, October 24, Tom Hall spoke with the director of Next to Normal at Center Stage, David Schweitzer, and cast member Kally Duling.  Listen here

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years. Her feature coverage for The Sun included a comprehensive series chronicling the development of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray.” Judy got her start at The Cleveland Press and at Cleveland’s fine arts radio station, WCLV. Her broadcasting experience also includes a year as an on-air theater critic for Maryland Public Television.
Jamyla Krempel is WYPR's digital producer. She collaborates with reporters and local programs to create content for WYPR’s online platforms.