The performance space in Deep Dish Theater Company’s storefront theater — at the Dillard’s end of University Mall in Chapel Hill, NC — is living-room sized. It is perfect for intimate dramas, but not so well suited for musicals, such as the 2009 Tony Award®- and 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama-winning rock musical, Next to Normal, because the performers with their body mics and the musicians sequestered backstage must rely on third parties — such as sound designer Michael Betts II and sound board operator Matthew Lubin to mix a robust rendition of their vocals and instrumentals and deliver it to audiences.
But last Saturday night, severe sound problems sabotaged much of Act One. The mix was so far off that the actors seemed to be screaming their lyrics into their mics, while their accompanists were only intermittently audible. The show’s sound mix was much better after intermission, but by then some of the audience had voted with its feet. That’s too bad, because they missed some compelling characterizations.
Critically acclaimed comedienne Lisa Jolley demonstrates an equally fine flair for drama as she sinks her teeth into the juicy role of Diana, a deep troubled wife and mother well acquainted with grief whose sorrows have unhinged her. Alarmed by her personality changes and hallucinations, Diana’s well-meaning husband, Dan (passionately portrayed by John Allore), sends her to a pair of psychiatrists, Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden (each given a distinct disagreeable personality by Mark Ridenour), who try to suppress her symptoms of mental illness and banish her hallucinationss with stronger and stronger medications and, later, with shock treatments that make her more pliable, but at what price?
Meanwhile, Diana and Dan’s pretty teenaged daughter Natalie (Abigail Coryell), an aspiring musician, is becoming increasingly upset by the changes in her mother’s behavior. She seeks solace with a fellow music student, Henry (Jeffrey Vizcaino), who has a huge crush on her, and a seemingly endless supply of marijuana to help soothe Natalie’s jangled nerves. Unfortunately for Deep Dish patrons, Coryell and Vizcaino have no romantic chemistry; and although he sings well, he fails to imbue Henry with enough personality to explain why a sharp girl like Natalie would ever give a sloppily dressed boy like Henry a second look.
The seventh and last character in Next to Normal is Dan and Diana’s son Gabriel (played with brio by Wesley Miller). Gabe is a boy with a big secret that cannot be revealed here, but affects the entire family, especially his mother, whom he visits while she is alone and in her most vulnerable state.
Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick sets a brisk pace for his cast, and scenic designer Rob Hamilton creates a simple but highly effective set comprised of alternately opaque and see-through scrim-covered panels that can quickly be repositioned to suggest various rooms in Diana and Dan’s home home, Natalie’s school, Henry’s home, and the offices of Diana’s psychiatrists. When the sound levels are corrected, these sets will form a nice showcase for the acting and singing talents of Deep Dish’s stellar cast for Next to Normal.
SECOND OPINION: March 6th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/putting-mental-illness-to-music-in-deep-dish-theaters-next-to-normal/Content?oid=3368844; March 5th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel preview by Mary Feddeman: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/03/a-theater-experience-that-is-next-to-normal; and March 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/03/04/2724652/in-second-triangle-outing-next.html.
Deep Dish Theater Company presents NEXT TO NORMAL at 7:30 p.m. March 6 and 7, 8 p.m. March 8 and 9, 2 p.m. March 10, 7:30 p.m. March 13 and 14, 8 p.m. March 15 and 16, and 2 p.m. March 17 at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, 201 S. Estes Dr., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514; and 8 p.m. March 22 and 23, and 2 p.m. March 24 in the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27511.
TICKETS: $21 ($19 seniors), except a $2 discount for Wednesday and Thursday shows and $14 for student tickets to all performances.
Chapel Hill: 919-968-1515 or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: Production dramaturg Lisa Keaton will give a pre-show Meet-the-Play talk at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 8th.
NOTE 2: There will be post-performance discussions on Sunday, March 10th (with dramaturg Lisa Keaton, director Paul Frellick, and the cast); Thursday, March 14th (with the show’s designers); and Sunday, March 17th (with Dr. John Gilmore).
NOTE 3: The Deep Dish Book Selection, Minrose Gwin’s 2011 memoir Wishing for Snow, will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 11th at Flyleaf Books, 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (Historic Airport Rd.), Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
Next to Normal (background): http://www.nexttonormal.com/ (official touring production), http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000383 (Music Theatre International), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Next_to_Normal (Wikipedia).
Tom Kitt: http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/tom_kitt/ (American Theatre Wing) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Kitt_(musician) (Wikipedia).
Brian Yorkey: http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/brian_yorkey (American Theatre Wing) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Yorkey (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.
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