Saturday, October 15, 2011

Next to Normal (Atlantis Productions)

♣♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Diana (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) is bipolar and sees nobody else but her son Gabe (Felix Rivera), much to the chagrin of her daughter Natalie (Bea Garcia) who is convinced that to her mother, she simply does not exist. Behind all the drama is Dan (Jett Pangan), the supportive husband and father who tries his best to keep his dysfunctional family from falling apart. As Diana's instability worsens and her mode of medication becomes more radical, the bond that holds their family together is put to the test.

Everyone in the cast is superb, that is a given. I have yet to see a foreign produced musical with foreign actors in it but I could tell you with much conviction, the not so many people who appreciate theater in this country, that we are very lucky to have such awesome theater actors. What we might lack in production values would most certainly be redeemed by the acting, and I am just so thankful because they are the reason why I keep on falling in love with theater over and over again. Back to the cast: sorry, boys; you are all awesome, even that Marki Stroem guy from the TV talent show is damn good, but the two girls are the ones to watch here. Madame Menchu and Bea owned this one big time, and I must warn you, they are highly contagious when they cry.

And since we are already touching the issue of crying, let us take it to the next level. You would love the contrast between the crying scenes of these two ladies. The mother cries with so much grief, while the daughter cries with so much angst. Nonetheless beneath all the tears you would only find one thing: vulnerability, and yes, to some extent, pain. And what is the good thing about that? These two gifted actors get to share those emotions with the audience in that after every crying scene the woman next to me would be drying her eyes with her handkerchief, while about a third of the orchestra’s second row would all have flared nostrils fresh from sobbing.

I was going to give this one four clovers during the first fifteen minutes. The mood was so gloomy and I just was not in the mood for depression. Heck, I am always depressed! That is why I watch loud and colorful musicals, to escape from the real world. After half an hour the twist is revealed in that birthday cake scene. Phew, and I thought the first half hour was already depressing! I thought, fuck, this is going to be heavy. Damn it. Nobody warned me that it was going to be that affective. I was half choking twice amidst the chorus of soft but clearly audible whimpers coming from the audience. After Gabe and Diana’s slow dance/crying scene I have concluded to give it a five. After Gabe and Dan’s crying scene towards the end I already wanted to give it six over five, if it would not just be too radical a change for my clover grading system of three years.

The only other near-crying experience I have had in recent memory was when I saw Toy Story 3, specifically that part when Andy was saying goodbye to Woody, flashback and all. But Toy Story 3 had Toy Story and Toy Story 2, and fifteen years of delay in between for dramatic effect, not to mention how symbolic it was for telling me to bid goodbye to a childhood that I could never return to. Next to Normal runs a few minutes shy of two hours if you cut the fifteen-minute intermission. And it got me this close to bawling. Twice.

My point exactly? I’m numb as a rock, people. Life does that to you. When I tell you that something almost made me cry twice, the translation would be: Bring a box of Kleenex because you are going to weep, my friend. This might seem like an exaggeration to you but this is the best musical I have ever seen. So far. And you know what makes it so remarkable? There are no lively dance numbers or big bands playing here. The costumes are not colorful. The characters are, to some extent,  yet beneath all their witty dialogues laced with sweetly enunciated profanity, you would not have to scratch that deep into the surface to feel their pain.

Anyway, I am so glad that this rerun has been brought to my attention, and now more than ever I believe that everything happens for a reason. I just had to see this. I am happy I did. Maybe you should too. It runs until this Sunday. Catch it before it is gone. Or watch it in Seoul this November. In Korean. Good luck. Then, let us compare notes.

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