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Citadel’s Next to Normal looks at complexity of family dynamics

Annie Pumphrey
Gateway Staff
Oct 31, 2012

Next to Normal
Written by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Ron Jenkins
Starring Kathryn Akin, Réjean Cournoyer, Michael Cox, Sara Farb, Robert Markus and John Ullyat
Runs until Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m., matinées on Sundays at 1:30 p.m., no shows on Monday
The Citadel Theatre (9828 101A Ave.)
Starting at $36.75 at the Citadel box office

“There’s a difference between being happy and thinking you’re happy,” remarks John Ullyat’s psycho pharmacologist character Dr. Madden as he counsels the bipolar Diane played by Kathryn Akin. But if to be happy is to be normal, shouldn’t people pretend to be happy for the sake of normalcy? This is one of the many questions posed in the Citadel Theatre’s latest musical production, Next to Normal.

The musical offers a convincing look at the consequences mental illness can have on an average family, following Diane, a depressed middle-aged woman with bipolar disorder fighting to cope with the loss of her son (Robert Markus). Despite numerous medication changes, counselling and electroshock therapy, Diane’s mental instability worsens. In her struggles, Diane begins to neglect her husband Dan (Michael Cox) and daughter Natalie (Sara Farb), and in turn, their own sanity begins to slip away.

At its heart, the family’s dysfunctions stem from miscommunication and their attempts to cover up painful realities. The set design complements these ideas, and in the same way that the play examines the framework of the family, the metal scaffolding separating the stage represents the framework of the house. These different levels allow the characters to be physically disconnected from each other, yet still appear as part of the complete family.

Separate from the house lies an unknown realm of forgetfulness, represented by a glass wall lining the back of the stage. During the production, the wall opens to reveal a bright, heaven-like space filled with fog, beckoning Diane to disappear into the depths of forgetting with great effect.

The physically and emotionally strenuous songs in Next to Normal are handled skillfully by the actors as well. Stepping into the troubled shoes of Diane, actress Kathryn Akin succeeds in her chaotic yet witty portrayal of bipolar disorder, bringing a captivating authenticity to her role.

Accompanying Akin is the notable Réjean Cournoyer in his role as her husband. Cournoyer’s strong stage presence gives the family a sense of stability, and his incredibly deep, resonating voice adds a level of richness to the show’s musical numbers.

The entire cast of Next to Normal exudes energy and talent in this explosive musical, making it nothing short of impressive as they effectively capture the heart of a family that just wants to be normal.


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