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- Glass, Guy
Summary:Next to Normal is a musical, composed in a rock idiom.
Meet the Goodmans, (father Dan, mother Diana, daughter Natalie) who on the surface resemble a “perfect loving family” like any one of millions. However, from the outset we see that they are, in fact, a hair’s breadth from collapse: Diana’s long-term struggle with bipolar disorder leaves her suffering uncontrollable mood swings. Her illness fuels the chronic tension in her relationships with husband and daughter. In addition, we learn that a son (Gabe), whom we initially believe to be an active family member, actually died years ago and his appearances represent Diana’s hallucination.
As the show begins, Diana is undergoing a hypomanic episode that is resistant to treatment by her psychopharmacologist. Discouraged by side effects and egged on by her phantom son, Diana flushes her pills down the toilet. As she deteriorates, she visits a new psychiatrist who agrees at first to treat her without medication. As she begins in psychotherapy, for the first time, to accept the loss of her son, she descends to a new clinical low. At the close of the first act, after making a suicide attempt, she is hospitalized and agrees to be treated with ECT.
By Act II, the ECT has effected great clinical improvement, with stabilization of Diana’s mood and no further hallucinations. All this, however, has come at the expense of her memory. As it returns, she becomes aware that what she most needs to remember, and process, are her feelings about losing a child. In fact, we learn that she was kept from expressing them at the time because of concerns she might decompensate. She struggles to make sense of all of this while remaining stable. When she confronts Dan about Gabe, it is he who appears unable to discuss their loss. She suddenly becomes aware that Dan has been enabling her in an unhealthy way. She reconciles with her daughter, but realizes that in order to move forward she needs to get out of her dysfunctional marriage. However, the door is left open on this relationship, for at the recommendation of her psychiatrist Dan enters psychotherapy.