Published on Monday, 09 September 2013 13:30
The one who can't cope
Or maybe the one who'll still hope
The one who sees doctors or the one who just waits in the car
And I was a wild twenty five
And I loved a wife so alive
But now I believe I would settle for one who can drive."
6 lines. That's all it takes for the Pangdemonium's production of Pulitzer winning musical, Next to Normal, to impart to audiences the sense of isolation and, more importantly, despair that someone would feel living with a family member suffering from mental illness.
The musical and its cast are very pretty to look at. The production values really shine on stage. It's pretty clear that the set and prop designers lovingly went over every single detail on stage. The opening visual of Act 2 alone is worth the price of admission.
Next to Normal's script is both witty and engaging. There's a lot of dark humor within the play's subtext that will make you sometimes question yourself if you should be laughing at the on stage punch lines. All thanks to how splendidly the cast manages to marry Brian Yokey's punchy script to their onstage antics.
Sally Ann Triplett plays Diana Goodman, a suburban house wife struggling with her condition who inadvertently alienates her worried family as she struggles to find the line between reality and the imagined. You can't help but find yourself feeling for Diana and by extension her family, as she navigates the highs and lows of her mania throughout the story. Sally brings enough nuances to Diana that completely sells you that Diana needs truly needs help. You'll see it in her eyes throughout the entire musical.
Which is why there will be moments where you'll find yourself on the verge of tears as you watch Adrian Pang give life to the despair that his character Dan Goodman feels as he watches his wife slip away from him as she struggles with what's real and what's imaginary. Look for what Pang does with his hands and you'll find yourself pulled into his performance even more.
Nathan Hartano's impish charm is obvious whenever his character, Gabriel Goodman, is on stage. Hartano's star shines brightest during a musical number that showcases the vicarious boy as he bounces around for a role that he was born to play.
The chemistry between Julia Abueva and Linden Furnell's characters, who play teenaged couple Natalie Goodman and Henry, is readily apparent to audiences as the pair play off each other during their scenes together. Pay close attention and you'll see how the pair mirror Natalie's parents' circumstances as the plot continues to unfurl.
Juan Jackson's baritone voice is the hidden gem of the musical's cast as he pulls double duty playing Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. His is the voice that could tame the beast of insanity as you listen to Juan's Dr. Madden implore Sally's Diana Goodman to stick with her treatment.
By the end of the night you'll find yourself wondering how did the 2.5 hours go by so quickly. Yes, it is that good.
However, Next to Normal is not the easiest musical for general audiences to sit through.
Mental illness is not pretty. It brutally tears families apart as they struggle to care for their afflicted loved one. More often than not, there is no happy ending for mentally ill patients and their families as their demons eventually overwhelm them, leading into a vicious cycle as tragedy begets more tragedy.
Pangdemonium's Next to Normal gives audiences a peek into what it's like to see the world through the eyes of someone who's suffering from bi polar disorder and the devastating effects that mental illness has on the people who live with it and around it. It's a highly educational experience for Singaporean audiences and I highly recommend that you catch it during its run at the National Library's Drama Center before it's run ends.