The Dancers May Disappear

CHICAGO—Boho Theatre, a tiny company without a permanent home, has in many ways surpassed its larger-scale competitors with its current production of Next to Normal, an unsentimental musical about premature death, bipolar disorder, and suicide.

Diana Goodman (Colette Todd) is a suburban mother who lost her first child soon after his birth.  Still, Gabe (Gilbert Domally) remains a regular presence in her life, most conspicuously when he encourages her decision to chuck her medication.  Diana’s husband, Dan (Donterrio Johnson), struggles to recover the happy woman he hastily married decades before, while their overachieving daughter, Natalie (Ciera Dawn), gets lost in the shuffle.

Ms. Todd gives the strongest performance here; her Diana has an unnerving blankness that occasionally gives way to fits of giggles, the product of relentlessly revised drug cocktails and a series of hallucinations.  Frenetically making sandwich after sandwich, she reminds us of “The Problem That Has No Name” taken to its logical conclusion—that is, what begins as a conventional domesticity ends as an emotionally suffocating doll’s house, though this time every one of them is a doll.

The orchestra plays from behind the stage and the set shows signs of a company on a budget, but most of the actors are game and the material is both wisely chosen and respected.  Rather than maudlin outbursts, we get a combination of repression and reserve, a recognition that depression often comes not in a flood but in a trickle that, after some time, begins to feel normal.

Next to Normal runs through October 9th at Theater Wit.  1229 W. Belmont Avenue  Chicago, IL.  2 hours 20 minutes.  One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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