Friday, July 6, 2012

Next To Normal 7/6/12

Spoiler Alert! Yes, you need to go see this musical first. This has been my experience I am writing about. It is not a substitute for finding your own. You can read this blog later and compare notes if you will.  You can go to the Towle Theater website by clicking here.

The Towle Theater knows how to put on a play / musical. The directing, acting, lighting, stage, and now the young musicians in the back corner, were all great this evening. I really have to thank all of the sponsors of the Towle Theater up front. This Theater is so wonderful in talent and directing, and at the same time so obscure that NW Indiana would not be the same if sponsors and patrons did not step forward to support the Arts. Towle Theater has given me a new dimension in my life. One that I cherish, and thank all for making it happen.

What is Normal?  Is Normal real?  Can there ever be a Normal?  Maybe Next To Normal is as close as we will ever get . . . we will find out.

Let me first introduce you to the cast, starting with their character name first:

Diana - Mary Kay Steele


Dan - Kevin Bellamy


Natalie - Mollyanne Nunn


Gabe - Andrew Wolverton


Henry - Todd Aulwurm


Dr. Fine / Dr. Madden - Tyler Collins



Diana, starting the morning off with her meds . . .


Then scolding her son for just now coming in late, and telling him to quickly go upstairs . . .


Dan had walked down to inquire about the voices he heard downstairs.  (I did not have a good photo of this.)  Diana told him "it was just me", and directed Dan back upstairs if he wanted sex.  This was to cover for their son coming in late.  Natalie then walks in to get ready for school.



Diana leaves, telling her daughter what she was going upstairs to do. Needless to say, Natalie did not want to hear that . . . for what teenager wants to here about what their parents do behind closed bedroom doors?







There is so much going on in Diana's mind, that she drops the lunch on the floor, and puts the sandwiches back together. Still, normal as normal gets, except perhaps for continuing to make more sandwiches while sitting on the floor . . . now you are getting a hint of what normal may not be.


Dan says "off to school", so now we meet Natalie in the music room.  I really enjoyed the music sheets on the door to help signify where Natalie was.  This was highlighted with the jacket she had on as well.  This attention to detail, helping the audience focus, is what I have come to admire from the Towle Theater.



And in comes Henry, an admirer-er.  Henry reminded me a lot of myself in high school.  Except for the fact he actually approached the girl !


Because of the episode in the kitchen, Dan and Diana go see Dr. Fine.  For whatever reason, the audience got a kick out of what meds to take when, with what, all by color / size / shape.  It sort of reminded me when I volunteered for some quality six sigma work at a heart failure center, trying to understand all the pills heart failure patience were taking.  Though this was for psych.


Meanwhile, Natalie and Henry are at school still trying to understand each other, and how to get along for whatever reason. It is interesting to me how people pick up on the telegraph of others who are in need of something. In this act, though Henry is attracted to Natalie which is why he is there, he is slowly finding Natalie needs him there at that moment to question her own normality.



This next part I thought was great. I am not going to explain. Go see this musical !  A bit spooky, comical, psycho all rolled into one.





No, they did not kiss . . . came close. I think even the audience did not feel it was time, as Natalie felt the pressure of her family environment taking over her emotions. When you sit back and reflect, you can almost picture this scenario with the people around you. At first seeming to be open, then all of a sudden closed for reasons you do not understand, but they do.


So you try to show you care, as best you can. And in the case of Henry, wanting to be there for Natalie because he is in love with her.


After Henry's promise to be there, I think even the audience agreed it was time to kiss . . . yea Henry !


So now, Natalie and Henry are back at Natalie's house, standing outside, with mom watching through the window.



Diana asks her son why she did not know about this, why she did not see it coming. His response, you do not see a lot mom . . .

Then Diana has a flashback, so real to her, which through this entire act you now begin to realize Diana's extreme from norm. All of a sudden she is back to when Dan and she met, in college, pregnant with then their son and not yet married.



Some people see shades of grey, and long for color. Diana, being under medication feels the only way she will see color is to stop taking the medication, so she and her son get rid of it . . .



So life goes on, without medication. Natalie and Henry are out front. Henry was wanting to know when he might be invited in, being he has counted the days and hours. As Natalie is hesitant, Dan sees them and invites Henry in. As a teenager, and in almost any home, I can understand why there would be hesitancy to invite someone in to meet your family. You feel your family is strange, and that the outside world is not ready for their in-home life. All part of growing up.















So everyone sits down at the table for supper while Diana is off with her new colorful life and what one might perceive as the normal home.



And now a surprise for everyone . . . happy birthday!


Henry, being the newcomer, asks who the birthday is for, and finds out it is for Natalie's brother. Henry comments that he did not know Natalie had a brother, and she returned with, "he's dead". So now everyone finds out that Diana has not been taking her meds.  This is probably the most difficult thing for anyone to understand.  Even a patient.  Taking medication seems like you have lost control of your life.  However, you need to keep reminding yourself, taking your medication actually helps you take control of your life, unless you are deep diving into other alternative solutions.


Diana tries to explain why she wants off the meds, to feel alive, to feel a purpose, one of not being clouded and grey.  However Dan knows she needs help.  Help of any kind.  So he offers to take her to a different doctor.



Dan takes Diana to see Dr. Madden. During the session Diana has a couple psychotic episodes that turn Dr. Madden into an instant rock star (this part was funny), which Diana believes it is all Dr. Madden (though to some degree realizes it could just be her).  This is where one can begin to understand the quick shift in a far from normal mind. A mind trying to cope, make sense, in whatever way it can.






Meanwhile, Natalie has chosen to get high off mom's drugs, being pushed by the non-presence of her dead brother.



The musical performance . . . the one mom was suppose to be at, but only Henry is.




Through this new attempt at suicide, Dr. Madden suggests Diana go through ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Now from Diana's view, she is only trying to be happy, to feel in some type of control. So having to go through ECT does not exactly settle with her.






Natalie finally collapses from being high on her mom's meds. Henry, who has been looking around in concern for Natalie, finds her.


The ECT is done, and now the work trying to rebuild some memory. At first Diana does not recognize her home, daughter, wedding rings, let alone Dan. After a while, there is a hint that she can remember something . . .





Diana has an appointment with Dr. Madden. Dr. Madden went on with the session in thought that Dan would have tried to help Diana remember everything. So he asked Diana about her son. To her big surprise, she looked at the doctor and said, "son?". This is were trust in the family took a dive.



And there is still trouble in paradise. I say paradise because thinking back to a teenager, those were days of paradise, even though at the time it felt like a constant struggle. If only I could tell myself then, what I know now . . .  I suppose as parents we do in a way, we try, with our children.

Whereas in real life, a long life, paradise seems to have become lost, absent of normality . . . at least in this household.




So, now who feels the emptiness, the grey?




Diana, now of a more clear mind, tells her daughter Natalie what she could not tell her years before. I believe it adds some peace for Natalie, though more time is needed to mend the gaps in her life growing up.



Okay, now if I have had the nerve to go to a high school dance, this is how I would picture myself . . . at least what feels normal to me now. Fortunately I can paint the picture I want. In Dan's case, the picture he tried to paint without his son Gabe in it backfired with Diana. Lessons learned . . .





Diana is packed, leaving to find herself. Lack of trust was probably behind this decision. Dan, now switching places with Diana . . .



Natalie comes home and sees her dad in the dark. She finds out her mom has left, and realizes that anything next to normal is all she can ask for from her dad right now.




Gabe is still singing, I believe wanting to be alive, and not to be forgotten.





So, what is Normal? Is Normal real? Can there ever be a Normal? Maybe Next To Normal is as close as we will ever get . . . should get.

This musical is pretty cool, and all because of the casting and directing.  It starts as a normal family life.  At least normal as I define it.  You then begin to see that the family really does not understand most of the time what Diana does.  You begin to ask, "well what / who is normal here and who is not?"

Mary Kay who played Diana was excellant.  She played normal as normal could be, yet also put you in left field far from normal.  Her vocal, and acting, were superb.

I really enjoyed the casting of Andrew for this role of "Gabe".  He played it so well, making you think he was real at the beginning, then making you realize he is the torment in everyone's mind at the end.

Mollyanne who played Natalie was gorgeous in acting and voice throughout the musical. Todd who played Henry, made the acts real, warming, making you wish you could follow in his foot steps. Thinking your life would be more normal if you did, even though at first you were made to believe his was not.  And, he gets the girl at the end . . . so I choose to believe.

Kevin who played Dan has been solid every time I have seen him.  He had some exceptional moments in vocal, and when you think of it, changing emotions throughout the musical, he kept his sanity . . . maybe.

Tyler who played both Dr.'s Fine and Madden had some very good moments in vocal and acting as well. During rehearsal of all things, I did not realize the doctors were played by the same person. Kudos . . .

The musicians were great!  And I mean Great!  Might I add, it would be cool to see the group of them perform acoustically at Paul Henry's.  Here are their names and some photos . . .

Piano . . . Josh Stierley
Violin . . . Kristen Campbell
Cello . . .Kathy Burrell
Guitar . . . Derek Hutchinson
Bass . . . John MacNeil
Percussion . . . Charlie Wood






And let us not forget the audience who come to enjoy an evening with the Towle Theater . . .


As always, it takes a team behind the team to pull any of this off.  The production staff . . .

Director . . . Jeff Casey

Vocal / Music Director . . . Josh Stierley

Lighting Design . . . Shawn A. Smith

Set Design . . . Kevin Bellamy

At this time I would like to mention that the set and lighting were spectacular.  The multi-function panels, lighting upstairs and downstairs, were all perfect.  Though as a photographer I struggled, as a member of the audience it filled my view perfectly.

Obviously, at least to me, a special thanks always has to go out to Jeff Casey.  I now realize what it takes, at least to my extent, to put on a play / musical.  Jeff is always looking ahead, never settling for OK.


Life is hard.  For some it can be more so.  For me though I have had hard times, in comparison to this musical my life seems simplistic.  You cannot help but feel the desire to want to help the characters of this musical, to step in, make life better.  Though at the same time understanding there is nothing you can do yourself except be there.  To feel that, and understand that, gives credit to the writing of this musical, and the directing and acting at the Towle Theater.

So what is Normal? Each of us should define it differently. As a whole, you can set guidelines. However individually, how can anybody be normal? What do you see in life? Do you see shades of grey or wonderful colors? Can you see colors with or without psychoactive drugs? Who is setting the standard?

We quantify, classify, catagorize, generalize peoples behaviors to aid in analyzing.  All because somewhere along the line a behavior has been pigeon holed as unacceptable, derived by a society as a whole, that individually none of us can live up to because we are human.  Yet we still do not tolerate extremes.  Perhaps this is the only definition of Normal.  Being next to it, away from the extremes.

I do implore you to go see this or any other play / musical at the Towle Theater.  We have talent in our own back yard that we do not know exists, unless we go see for ourselves and spread the word.

Wes' lessons learned:  Tighten your eye glasses so they do not fall apart in the middle of photo shoot, because photographing blind is scary . . . thanks to technologies auto focus!  Explore all that can be explored.  I missed some good opportunities by not going up into the seating to take photographs.

Towle Theater
5205 Hohman Avenue
Hammond, IN 46320
(219) 937-8780
www.towletheater.org

If you desire, check out my blog on Ordinary Days and The 39 Steps at the Towle Theater.

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