BWW Review: NRACT'S NEXT TO NORMAL Tackles Difficult Subject Matter with Dignity

BWW Review: NRACT'S NEXT TO NORMAL Tackles Difficult Subject Matter with Dignity

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five adults, 43.8 million people, in the United States live with a mental illness.

As a person who has lived with family members suffering from mental illness, I know how a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, or any mood disorder for that matter, can cast a wide net and impact everyone. I've experienced the heartache of watching a loved one suffer in silence and the helpless desperation of struggling to find the right words, the right cure, or any panacea that might help ease their pain.

That's why the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre's (NRACT) production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning show NEXT TO NORMAL hit so close to home for me. It's an unrelenting probe into mental illness through the lens of what appears to be an ordinary, suburban family.

Aubrey Comperatore plays Diana, a mom who has been battling with manic depression for over a decade. Comperatore is the quintessential everywoman who's ever veiled their pain or drowned in despair, and her gripping portrayal of Diana is palpable and stirring. Beau Clark, as Diana's husband Dan, gives an equally arresting performance brimming with anguish and fleeting hope. His vocals are controlled and steady, albeit sometimes strained in his upper range. But like Comperatore, he tackles Tom Kitt's pop/rock score with finesse. Averi Zimmerman's icy portrayal of Natalie, the couple's teenage daughter, is credible, and her skillful perseverance suggests a maturity beyond her years. Completing the family tree is Gabe, the menacing son, played by Joshua Altman. Altman's boyish charm is disarming and makes his cunning portrayal of Gabe profoundly unsettling as the story unfolds.

Director Timothy Locklear's staging is precise and the scene transitions are seamless. Once again, he proves he is not one to shy away from a challenge. Conversely, the splotchy, painted set distracts from the ethereal white curtains used as a backdrop and Aaron Alderman's effective and moody lighting design. In this case, less would've been more effective.

While this production isn't perfect, it is thought-provoking, worthy of attention, and has an important story to tell. My hope is this bold production will initiate a community-wide discussion about mental health and begin to cultivate an empathetic understanding for those who may be suffering behind closed doors.

NEXT TO NORMAL runs through November 11th at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre. For more information visit

Photo by Areon Mobasher.

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From This Author Lauren Van Hemert

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