BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Monster Box Theatre Remarkably Portrays a Momentous Story
Every opportunity I have to see a local production of Next to Normal, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, I seize it. That said, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing the interpretation currently being put on by Monster Box Theatre, where you too can catch a performance up until March 15th.
With a book, lyrics, and music by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt respectively, Next to Normal tells the story of an atypical American family who has been deeply affected by death and mental illness. It's challenging to talk further in detail about the plot without spoiling anything, but just know this: Next to Normal tackles a wide range of relevant topics such as mental illness, medication, suicide, addiction, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In summary, this show is a fascinating look into how a suburban family reacts when these circumstances come into play in their lives.
Since 2015, I've seen five different local productions of Next to Normal. While my obsession with this show first started because it was my favorite musical and I wanted to see it live, my goal has transformed into something else. It's a real treat getting the opportunity to see how different theatres have their own interpretations of this masterpiece.
Directed by Barbie Weisserman, Monster Box Theatre's production is no exception. I was enthralled by the unique directorial choices Weisserman took with her retelling of this tale. For example, during the scene in which Dan Goodman is explaining to his wife, Diana, about the necessity of ECT, the two characters do a brief dance together. This was something I'd never seen before. Short and sweet, it was a moment that makes the audience consider the weight of Diana and Dan's marriage in the larger context of the story. The two characters clearly feel passionate about one another and they want to get back to the "better" times they once had. Weisserman's choice there made this quite evident and I thought it was a super intriguing choice that's just one example of how this production is set apart from others I've seen.
Moreover, the cast in this production is the best that they come. Having worked together before, Diana Turner as Diana and John DeMerell as Dan brought the emotions, both separately and as a couple. For example, because the theatre's space is so tight-knit, you could actually see DeMerell's tears fall to the ground in a particularly emotional scene. In addition, Turner's soulful voice is the perfect tone for the character of Diana Goodman, particularly evident in such songs as "I Miss The Mountains" and "You Don't Know."
While I'm talking about the actors behind Diana and Dan, I should mention the two actors that play their children. Maryanna Lauter plays Natalie Goodman, a daughter who (rightfully) feels neglected by her parents. Lauter's Natalie shows more frustration and attitude than other Natalies I've seen, and it works very well with what the character goes (and has gone) through in the story. Meanwhile, Alex Macksoud's Gabe Goodman always has a glint of evil in his eye accompanied with a threatening smirk. Once again, this is something that I had never seen before (to this degree) with the character of Gabe. There's no doubt that Macksoud knows how to play the audience just with his nonverbal acting techniques.
Altogether, Monster Box Theatre's production of Next to Normal is certainly not one to miss. Their smaller space allows audiences to connect with the characters even more deeply than you would if you were seeing it in a big theatre (just one aspect I absolutely love about local theatre). Furthermore, Weisserman's directorial choices, as well as the cast's characterization of their dynamic characters, are unique to this production only. If you're in town, make sure to stop by the Monster Box Theatre for a night of award-winning music and the opportunity to see a one-of-a-kind cast tell this momentous story.
You can purchase your tickets for Monster Box Theatre's production of Next to Normal at https://www.monsterboxtheatre.com/tickets.
Connect with Monster Box on Facebook at @Monsterboxthtr, on Instagram at @monsterboxtheatre, and on Twitter at @MonsterBoxThtr. You can also learn more about the theatre and its wide range of programming at monsterboxtheatre.com.