Theater Review: Next to Normal

Music by Tom Kitt, Directed by Hanan Snir; Habimah, May 7

Theater 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Theater 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
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).
Traumatized Natalie 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 trees.