Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director Alan Paul shows a deep understanding of the nuances of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music), which examines the effects of a woman's bipolar disorder on the other members of her family. Diana (Olivera) is searching for a lasting remedy for her turmoil, but her behavior also wears down her relationships with husband Dan (Kevin S. McAllister), children Natalie (Sophie Early) and Gabe (Lucas Hinds Babcock), and Natalie's classmate Henry (Ben Clark).
Olivera dominates the stage in this role, revealing an intelligent and loving woman forced to battle her own demons and unable to spare those around her from her own constant pain. As she sings about her home and life, "Everything is perfect, nothing's real." When she's happy, she's a bit manic; when she's trying to cope, something is always a little off in her responses.
McAllister is heartbreaking but stalwart as Dan, who despairs that his love will ever be enough to give Diana what she needs. Babcock conveys the emotional strain of a child who refuses to be ignored, while Early shows how Natalie channels her anger into her own form of perfectionism. Calvin McCullough amuses as two psychiatrists as they lead Diana through the gamut of prescription medications, hypnosis, and eventually electroconvulsive therapy.
Scenic designer Wilson Chin has created a modular, non-literal space that represents a succession of rooms, doctor's offices, and other locations with minimal furniture and some unexpected elements. Nicholas Hussong's projection design makes Diana's struggle visible by covering a blank exterior wall with close-ups of faces, which sometimes blur and morph into hallucinations. The destabilizing effect also includes the vertical bars of color-shifting light that delineate spaces in Sherrice Mojgani's lighting design, and the occasional distortions in Ken Travis' sound design.
Next to Normal runs through February 25, 2024, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey