‘Perfect for You’

Theater Department presents ‘Next to Normal,’ the musical that brings light to mental illness

By on March 5, 2019

Flying pill bottles, sandwiches on the floor and rockstar doctors. This is an everyday occurrence for housewife Diana Goodman who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 16 years ago. Her loyal husband is losing hope and her angst-filled teenage daughter is feeling neglected.

This is the dysfunctional home shown in “Next to Normal” that the Theater Department showcased to its audiences from Feb. 27 to March 3 at the Theater Arts Center. Directed by Yale alum Rory Pelsue, the small cast performed the musical’s in-your-face, contemporary rock songs that brought the production to life.

Photo courtesy of Brendan Dillon
Performed in Quinnipiac’s black box theater, the space was limited but was used to its full potential. The audience had the opportunity to watch the family grapple with the effects of mental illness up close and with no barriers. 

The set, designed by Professor Abigail Copeland, was split into two levels–the first floor served as the kitchen and a place for the daughter Natalie, played by freshman Sarah Cowden, to perform at her recital that her mother didn’t attend. The second floor was used as the bedrooms, doctor’s office and the bathroom where Diana, played by freshman Kayla Jarry, would flush away the pills prescribed to her.

This multi-level set also gave Diana, her husband Dan, played by senior Connor Whiteley and her psychiatrists Doctor Fine and Doctor Madden, both played by junior Paul Zopatti, the ability to tell different aspects of the same story simultaneously. This was seen best practiced in the duet “Who’s Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I” during one of Diana’s appointments with her doctor.

Outside of that, the audience witnessed Natalie’s quest for perfection, whether it be for a perfect family, perfect relationship or a perfect future. Her character was played with such fragility, while also showing strength as Natalie lives in fear of turning into her mother.

Balancing out the intense emotions on stage was Henry, played by sophomore Sean Molicki, Natalie’s sweet stoner boyfriend. At first, Henry served as the comic relief, a character whose humor was perfectly timed, but the audience later learned that Henry was there to stay by Natalie’s side.

Over the course of the musical, there were gasps heard from the audience in response to multiple scenes. In particular, Diana’s son Gabe, played by graduate student Louis Napolitano, sparked these reactions with his striking and consistent presence throughout the show. His interactions with his father walked the line between tender and malicious as Napolitano moved stealthily from scene to scene. His passionate anthem “I’m Alive” haunted the audience throughout the show.

Along with the strong cast was immense attention to detail, particularly in the colors of the lighting and costumes. The lighting played on Diana’s emotions, with red and yellow lights signifying her manic episodes and blue while she was in a depressive state. When Diana took her medication and said “I don’t feel anything,” there are no colored lights. For almost the entirety of the musical, the actors are dressed in grey from head to toe. After a pivotal scene toward the end of the show, Natalie and Henry find themselves in blue.

Jarry’s portrayal of Diana stole the show with the ability to take the performance to another level. Through her body language of jittery hands and anxiety-stricken facial expressions, Jarry was able to speak to the audience with more than just the words on the script. Her exceptional performance of “I Miss the Mountains,” a musical number in which Diana reminisces about her manic and depressive episodes after becoming medicated.

Throughout the musical, the band, led by Professor Kyle Saulnier, can be seen through the makeshift windows of the set. This accentuated a theme of the musical by tearing down the walls and allowing the audience to see behind the scenes. This meant both the band and the ongoings of a family that at the surface level seems fine until you witness what happens out of the public eye.

Continuing with the theme of seeing what’s behind closed doors comes Dan, who is first shown to be capable of dealing with everything with a clear head and the utmost sensitivity, especially in the solo “He’s Not Here.” As the musical continues, we see Diana’s husband start to crack under the pressure of needing to take care of his family while dealing with the demons from his past. Whiteley’s performance challenged the audience to shift perspectives and ask itself what it might do if faced with the same tough decisions that would have ramifications on the entire family.

“Next to Normal” was not your ordinary musical, as the title may imply, however it was as thought-provoking as can be. There is a sense of irony that a team came together to put on such a great performance focusing on another group of people who were anything but united. Even if the family’s idea of normalcy is atypical, we still can relate and feel for them as outsiders looking in.

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