What is normal anyway?
Is it staying up all night to cram for test after test? Wanting to sleep with your wife? The ability to make a pipe out of an apple? Performing as a musical virtuoso? Making sandwiches on the floor? Or just being able to have a calm dinner for once?
For the characters in Next to Normal, a Tony nominated musical by Brian Yorkey and with music by Tom Kitt, a day without any catastrophes would be a blessing.
But since Diana, wife and mother, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder almost 18 years ago, life is more about walking on eggshells than family game night. Husband Dan is trying to keep the family functioning in some kind of capacity while daughter Natalie is pushed aside time and time again because of her mother’s trials and the undivided attention given to her brother.
In Merrick Theatre’s current production, directed by Nick Attanasio and playing through September 9th, parallels between mother and daughter run deep. Diana (Jennifer Collester-Tully) and Dan (Danny Amy) struggle to find middle ground in their marriage – she feels too much and he’s too good at ignoring it, while Natalie (Brittany Lacey) is unsure about letting down her guard for sweet stoner, Henry (Michael Visconti), who won’t leave her side. Both women are forced to face the truth: their own needs may rank higher than the needs of others. Maybe that is the only way they can be any kind of normal.
While it is Diana’s condition that sets forth the falling action of this musical, Dan and Natalie are the core of this presentation. Danny Amy realistically goes through the motions from hopeful to dejected and as a Merrick Theatre veteran, plays his best performance as of late. While he is a rock for his family, the vulnerability slowly unveils itself, leaving quite an impact by the end of Act II. Lacey is a softer Natalie – the brainiac who is mediocre when it comes to dealing with everything else. She isn’t especially combative with either of her parents, but, instead, seems a bit tired of it all. Lacey hits some beautiful notes with her strong and never wavering voice, especially in Act I’s “Superboy and the Invisible Girl.”