Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL at Straz Center

The musical runs through May 21

By: May. 19, 2023
Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL at Straz Center

JAGGED LITTLE PILL is a jukebox musical with music by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard, lyrics by Morissette, and a book by Diablo Cody, with additional music by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth. The musical is inspired by Morissette's 1995 album of the same name and deals with pain, healing, and taking back your voice after trauma.

From the outside looking in, the Healeys are seemingly the Gold Standard flawless upper-middle-class family living in the Connecticut suburbs. JAGGED LITTLE PILL begins with the mom writing the annual holiday Christmas newsletter bragging about her husband's job and her beloved Harvard-bound son.

From the inside looking out, just beneath the surface, they are a family imploding, struggling.

Mary Jane "MJ" Healey (Heidi Blickenstaff) is the wife who avoids her husband, making excuses for not reciprocating affection. She has given up, secretly addicted to painkillers after a car accident, avoiding a repressed traumatic secret that is eating her alive. Steve Healy (Chris Hoch) is a husband who works 60 hours, doesn't understand why his wife doesn't want him and spends his free time watching porn. Nick Healey (Dillon Klena) is an immature son burdened by his mother's expectations of perfection. Frankie Healey (Jordan Leigh McCaskill) is an adopted bisexual activist daughter whose color is being erased by a mother who says, "I don't see color."

Frankie is resentful that her mother dismisses her activism as a fad and that she refuses to call her sardonic non-binary queer "best friend with benefits" by their chosen name, Jo (Jade McLeod). Jo's religious mother refuses to accept their sexual and gender identity, so Jo finds comfort in their relationship with Frankie. When Jo finally screams, "That is NOT MY NAME," you can feel all the frustration they have held inside.

Bella (Allison Sheppard) is a friend of Nick that gets raped at a high school party by Nick's best friend, Andrew (Jordan Quisno), while Nick does nothing to stop the assault.

Alanis Morisette's JAGGED LITTLE PILL uses her discography to tell a powerful, relevant story that weaves together some of the most critical and timeless social issues of our time, including consent, sexual assault, and rape culture, gender identity, opioid addiction, and mental health.

Ironic" gets huge laughs set in a classroom where Frankie is reading her poem "Isn't It Ironic" and is constantly interrupted by classmates saying, "It's really not ironic." This is also where she meets the competition for her attention, a new student named Phoenix (Rishi Golani), and a love story begins to blossom in "That I Would Be Good."

In "Smiling," the unraveling of Mary Jane's life when she can't get painkillers legally is perfection in the revelation of her drug abuse - a scene where everything goes backward perfectly defines the chaos hidden beneath her smile.

"So Unsexy" tackles Steve's mourning the loss of love in his marriage to Mary Jane, a wife he still cherishes despite wanting nothing to do with him.

"Perfect" reveals Nick's anxiety about not meeting his mother's high expectations.

One of the show's absolute highlights was when Jo discovered Frankie was seeing a CIS guy. When confronted and Frankie says she didn't know they were in a committed relationship, McLeod gut-punches us with the belting out of "You Oughta Know." The audience waited only seconds to punctuate the song's end with rousing applause.

In the scene recounting Bella's and MJ's sexual assault, using the bed vertically to see the remembered assault from a front view was devastating and definitely, triggering for some. "Uninvited" was a haunting peek into the minds of sexual assault survivors, using a third figure (Jena VanElslander) to re-enact their vicious attacks. This is the first time Mary Jane acknowledges the college sexual assault she endured and is locked away in her memory's deepest recesses.

Goosebumps or powerful imagery is the only way to describe a scene where dozens of hotbed issue signs were raised high - "Believe Black Women," "I Stand With You," "No Ban on Stolen Land," "Trans Is Beautiful," "Fear Has No Place in Our Schools," "My Body. My Choice." left an indelible impact, especially now in this divisive time in our history.

The choreography, set, costumes, and lighting were spectacular. Though the vocals were outstanding throughout the performance, I found that Blickenstaff, McLeod, and McCaskill stood out above the rest, especially McLeod.

I did not expect to be so emotionally invested in the musical. The storyline magicians masterfully merged Morisette's music into a raw and harrowing tale of pain and absolution, using full songs and fragments to set the stage and made the Healey family's destruction and redemption cathartic. As they learn to confront their secrets, they discover strength in each other. When the musical closes as it opened with a Christmas newsletter, it is healing, humorous, and with an entirely different perspective.

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From This Author - Deborah Bostock-Kelley

A twice-published author, multi-time award-winning playwright, magazine writer, theatre reviewer, and newspaper journalist with 30+ years in journalism and business copywriting, Deb was a 2022 Recipie... Deborah Bostock-Kelley">(read more about this author)


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