The playbill’s “Notes on the Play” tells of how musician Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey with the help of producer David Stone worked to perfect the play over many years. However, the notes say, “financial success on the Great White Way is rare even in the best of economic times, but launching a rock musical about a women with a mental illness in the midst of a recession seemed... well... insane.” [i]
I found the play riveting, entertaining, distressing, and uplifting all at once. It’s about the struggles of a woman with bipolar disorder, and the impacts on her husband and daughter. This musical drama portrays psychotherapy, and psychiatric medications and their side effects. The plot includes a suicide attempt and electroconvulsive therapy with its benefits and side effects. The story shows how the family moves from expecting to be perfectly normal to acceptance of living “next to normal.” The production ends on a note of hope that the three individually and as a family are getting to a better place.
From what I have learned from others and have experienced myself, the play was quite realistic in its depictions. I did cringe at the strong language used throughout the production. The play would have been even better without it. Nevertheless, overall, I was very pleased not only with the entertainment value of play, but that people who watch it can’t help but be more informed about mental illness. Perhaps Next to Normal will help break down stigmas and foster hope so more individuals suffering from brain disorders will get help.
Speaking of “insane” things, just last week someone told me I was “crazy” when I delivered a speech about being in the professional speaking business. My presentation was to a very distinguished group: members and guests of the National Speakers Association, Mountain West Chapter. During this speech, I told of how I have factors working against me: I’m a profound introvert who shies away from large groups, I’m an accountant—a profession whose members have a stereotypical reputation of being bland and boring (people understood and started laughing even before I told my accountant jokes!), and I speak on a topic—like the play—that people often find uncomfortable: mental illness.
I went on to say that I am successful because I’m passionate about my topic, there are many people who benefit from my message, and I’ve proved from feedback I’ve received that I’m making a significant difference in people’s lives. Right after my speech when I returned to sit with the audience, one of my friends lightheartedly handed me a note that said I could advertise that “I’m crazy about my topic.”
So, the play’s launch was “insane” and I’m “crazy.” Not very flattering, huh? Even so, perhaps as more people do Broadway plays, write books, speak about mental illness, and otherwise promote good mental health, the world is little by little transforming into a better place. More people will get help so they can push on to happier and more fulfilling lives.
[i] “Next to Normal” playbill distributed by Pioneer Memorial Theater, 2011, 17