Review: Geva play next to perfect

05:00 AM, Jan 13, 2013

Next to Normal, opening this week at Geva Theatre Center. Photo credit: Greg Mooney, courtesy of Alliance Theatre, Atlanta. (Greg Mooney)/


Written By Marcia Morphy

If you go

What:
Next to Normal.
When: Through Feb. 10, including 6 p.m. Tuesday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Blvd.
Cost: Tickets start at $25.
More information: (585) 232-4382 or gevatheatre.org.

Who’s crazy, the husband or the wife? The one who can’t cope, or maybe the one who’ll still hope?”

Mental illness is hard to live with and even harder to watch as Geva’s Mainstage production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal shines a light on the deepest and darkest corners of the mind. And yet, this edgy, roller coaster of a rock musical promises a silver lining for all who see it.

In Kevin Rigdon’s three-storied dollhouse-like setting, the Goodman family has nowhere to hide. Diana looks like your typical, sunny-side-up suburban mom singing “Just Another Day,” until you witness her manic display of making sandwiches — on the kitchen table and then moving to the chairs and floor below.

It is not a pleasant experience, nor is it intended to be.

We soon learn she has lived with depression and bipolar disorder for the past 16 years, while the family, led by husband Dan, have helplessly looked on.

After a suicide attempt, psychiatrists Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine (expertly played by Googie Uterhardt) recommend a drastic measure — electroconvulsive therapy with possible side effects including memory loss.

The subtle weariness of her half-alive condition never hits a false note as Catherine Porter, who was the stand-in for Diana in the last weeks of the Broadway run, illuminates a gamut of emotions, from despair and delusion to grit and perseverance. Her cries for help consistently bubble below the surface, but her pinnacle moment surfaces when she sings “I Miss the Mountains” — describing the highs and lows of her disease with “the manic magic days and dark depressing nights.”

Bob Gaynor portrays her fiercely devoted husband with sensitivity and world-weary patience. He also performs double duty, protecting the invisible byproduct of a toxic environment: their daughter, Natalie. Lyndsay Ricketson, including her performance of the song “Superboy and the Invisible Girl,” makes a strong impression as the struggling teenager.

And she and Cary Tedder as son Gabe literally rock the stage with explosive anger and energy.

Jordan Craig as Natalie’s boyfriend, Henry, fits like a glove in the microscosm of characters, displaying a sweet innocence that takes the weight off the family struggle.

But it’s the music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey that carries Next to Normal to new heights, along with the six-piece band led by pianist/conductor Don Kot. The songs are extensions of the characters — direct outpourings of their emotions. It’s the kind of music that gets under your skin in an almost intangible way and makes you wish you had a CD to play in your car on the way home.

There is no happy ending in Next to Normal, but there is renewed sense of hope and compassion for those suffering from the effects of mental illness. It is, simply, next to perfect.