Next to Normal powerfully tells the story of an ordinary family as it struggles
to cope with mental illness. Diana Goodman’s (Ayelet Robinson) long-time bipolar
disorder, also known as manic-depression, isn’t easy to live with, not for
herself, not for supportive husband Dan (Doron Oren), nor for her children,
Natalie (Rona Fromchenko) and Gabe (Harel Skaat).
shelters behind overachievement and nearly rebuffs the love that decent Henry
(Gilad Shmueli) offers her. Over and over, Gabe must affirm his existence. The
treatments prescribed by Drs. Fine – pills and more pills – and Madden (Tomer
Sharon plays both) who turns to electro-shock as a last resort, only seem to
exacerbate an already awful life. It’s not until Diana makes some harrowing
decisions that a resolution seems possible.
Technically the show works
beautifully via Eran Atzmon’s two-tier set with revolve, and Meir Alon’s
unobtrusive lights. Apart from the shoddy fabric that constitutes some of
Diana’s dresses, Erez Ma’ayan’s costumes work overall. Yossi Ben- Nun’s music
direction is crisp.
This is not a feel-good musical. It’s intense, very
intense’ but intensity wears thin when it’s maintained for the two hours and 15
minutes that Next to Normal runs. Such a show needs the leaven of humor and
Hanan Snir’s arguably committed production badly lacks it. The humor is built
into the music and into the words, but these latter need the right delivery and
timing, which is missing.
The actor/singers work hard, deliver their
songs with passion – Skaat’s “I’m Alive” is marvelously sung – and there’s
truthful interaction among them, but because they never get to relax, because
they’re almost continually on edge, we lose empathy. We lose the forest for the