Dysfunction is key to good drama. After all, there’s a world of ways that people fall short, screw up and miscommunicate, offering playwrights myriad opportunities for exploring the human condition. And when a brain operating at less than optimum capacity enters the picture, the options for parsing shame, blame, anger and regret grow even richer. It’s a situation that has long been explored in theater, but composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey took the idea of a psyche under siege to a new place, setting the trials of a troubled mind to music in “Next to Normal,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that’s making its regional premiere at Drury Lane Theatre Aug. 15.
“Next to Normal” follows Diana, a suburban mother struggling with bipolar disorder, and her husband and kids, who all have their own issues. While Diana’s affliction drives the piece, sibling tension, young love and a husband’s yearning round out the narrative. “This is a play about a family and how they negotiate the problems of their lives,” says director William Osetek. “In many ways, it’s not so different from most plays wherein individuals are faced with seemingly untenable circumstances. While there is sadness to the piece, there is also a lot that is uplifting and hopeful. Diana is so charming and inviting, despite her affliction.”
Diana is played by Susie McMonagle,who appeared for a year on Broadway as Fantine in “Les Miserables,” and whose work locally has earned her nine Jeff nominations. Of the part, McMonagle says her biggest challenge is “coupling emotional honesty with the vocal gymnastics.” Osetek has no doubt that she’ll manage that just fine. “We saw many women for the role, and quite a few of them would have been wonderful, but no one would have brought the heart, strength, charm, warmth and vocal power that she brings,” says Osetek. “I first met Susie when I was a young assistant director in 1990, not long after she came to town. She was playing Rizzo in a production of ‘Grease,’ Finally, 23 years later, I am honored to direct her in the best show I know.
‘Next to Normal’