Next to Normal: A Play for May

May is National Mental Health Month, a very important one for me, because depression seems to run in our family, so the play Next to Normal hit many chords. My husband and my son and daughter by marriage, as well as the partner of my son-by-marriage (who works at Sony Columbia, so he was able to get great seats) all loved the play. It was about a tough subject, manic-depression, or as it is now called, bi-polar disorder (I prefer the original name since it is more descriptive).  Nevertheless, it’s powerful message and hard-hitting songs got to us!

In this rock musical/serious play, the main character, Diana is played by Tony award winning actress Alice Ripley. For the past 17 years, Diana has been treated for manic-depression, to no avail.  The story line involves only five other characters: her long-suffering husband, her angry daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, her son and her psychiatrist, aptly names Dr. Fine.

In dialogue and music, we begin to see the pain that all of them suffer from Diana’s illness. In one scene, the voices off stage sing: Zoloft and Paxil and Buspar and Xanax…Depokote, Klonopin, Ambien, Prozac….Ativan calms when I see the bills—These are a few of my favorite pills. (Parody of  the song “These are a Few of my Favorite Things.”)

The play not only shows Diana’s struggle, but also the struggle of family members caught in the cycles of Diana’s illness. It is painful, poignant, and yet, at the end, somewhat reluctantly resolved for the present.  And by the end, almost all of us had tears streaming down our cheeks.

Not only did Alice Ripley receive a Tony; the play won the Pulitzer. The music is not your everyday rock, but even without the play, I like the score and downloaded it into my iTunes. I took the CDs to school last week when I substituted and two students had seen the play and also loved it, so it appeals to a wide range of ages.

I was so moved by the play that I sent the star, Alice Ripley, a poem I wrote the next day. I never heard from her, but I also never received the letter back, so I hope she received it….and I hope you get to see this prize-winning play, because it puts mental illness in a place that more of us can understand it, which is part of the battle of making mental illness clearer to those who live with someone plagued by it.

P.S. I  plan to review a more uplifting play for women called Respect on When you reach the site, click on Reviews and it should be there by tomorrow (May 17th).

Note: To purchase a copy of this excellent CD, just click on the image below and it will take you right to the online store.

5 thoughts on “Next to Normal: A Play for May

  1. ES… Thank you for this excellent review. I will try to see the play. I appreciate! -sylvia

  2. I saw the play, and I waited outside to meet Alice Ripley. She remained out-of-doors
    talking to the theater goers for an hour or more. I was impressed with her normalcy.
    She didn’t behave like a star celebrity. Alice shared she was making an album with
    a group she performs with aside from the show.

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