Saturday, February 16, 2008

Next To Normal

photo: Joan Marcus

I can't with conscience talk about the theatrical merits of this revised version of Feeling Electric - the lively rock-tinged music, a couple of sensationally good performances (Alice Ripley and Brian D'Arcy James) and some dynamic staging - because I found the show's negative attitude toward drug therapy to be so silly. The show's message seems almost like something out of the Scientology mindset: throw away those pills and ditch that psychiatrist because all you really need to manage a physiologically-based mental illness (bi-polar depression, in this case) is to talk things out. The nice word for this is "naive". Besides that, the show traffics in the cheapest kind of sentimental cliches to get a reaction out of the audience: the nadir comes near the finale, when both leads get back to back tear-jerker moments that result from one of them doing something that seems otherwise wholly unmotivated. The lyrics to the final song are so vague and fuzzy, about the need to "step into the light out of the dark" or somesuch, that they instantly sound like a parody of themselves. Yet I looked around, and most of the audience was on their feet and wiping away tears. The show probably taps into some seldom expressed collective dread about our over-medicated culture, while pushing the old square buttons about family and the healing power of accepting oneself, and that seems to be enough for most people to connect to. But most people ain't me.

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