Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Next to Normal
Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Broadway Center Stage: Tick, Tick... Boom! and Mindplay

Tracy Lynn Olivera
Photo by Margot Schulman Photography
Tracy Lynn Olivera's performance is the glowing heart of Round House Theatre's production of Next to Normal, with powerful support from the five other cast members, the five orchestra members, and–perhaps most strikingly–a tech-heavy production design that seems to engulf the audience.

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

Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Alan Paul
Choreographed by Eamon Foley
A co-production with Barrington Stage Company

Diana: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Gabe: Lucas Hinds Babcock
Dan: Kevin S. McAllister
Natalie: Sophia Early
Henry: Ben Clark
Doctor Madden/Doctor Fine: Calvin McCullough