November 15, 2015

next to normal at Risley Theatre

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By NATALIE TSAY

There are many things to love about next to normal, especially the production that took place at Risley last Thursday through Saturday. The play follows the Goodman family, whose matriarch, Diana, has been living with bipolar disorder for 16 years following the death of her infant son. Each member of the family experiences dramatic ups and downs, including Diana’s husband, Dan, who wonders if he’s crazy for holding onto hope, and Natalie, who is keenly aware of her mother’s obsession with her actual firstborn child. The contemporary rock soundtrack (played live by a very talented pit of student musicians split between Cornell and Ithaca College) was dynamic, diverse and moving, and in conjunction with the staging, minimalist set and lighting, next to normal at Risley was a fantastic production.

The first thing I noticed about next to normal was the overwhelming presence of students who don’t go to Cornell. The show was directed by Andy Gonzalez, a senior at Ithaca College, and five of the six-actor cast are students at IC as well. To explain the overlap between Cornell and IC theatre, I spoke to Rebecca Saber ’18, the stage manager of the production. “Because it’s student theatre, we are able to audition any student who wants to be part of a show,” she said. In addition to the actors and crew, many of the musicians come from Ithaca College.

It’s undoubtedly a good thing that next to normal brought in so much “outside” talent. The cast was simply phenomenal. Both Robin Mazer and Josh Wilde, who played the mother and father of the Goodman family, exuded believable maturity. Mazer’s voice was sweet and resonant, and Wilde’s was also just right for his part. But perhaps even more impressive than their voices was the emotional depth that Mazer and Wilde both brought to their roles. Mazer played Diana with just the right amount of lucidity. She didn’t overdramatize a role that could have easily been overdramatized, and that’s what I found compelling about her performance. On the other hand, Wilde tackled the challenge of playing the “stable” one exceedingly well. His moments of anguish were some of my favorites in the play; I could feel his crazed desperation to keep his marriage, his family and himself together through all of the trials.

Upon hearing Kylie Heyman’s voice, I had to put my jacket on, no kidding — I literally got chills. As Natalie, she filled the theatre with both her stunning vocals and her easy presence on stage. Furthermore, she brought the right combination of youth and skepticism required. Brendan Smith got to show off his impressive vocal range playing Gabe, and he also pulled off the wide-ranging facets of his character. He shone in every scene and song he was in, bringing light and exuberance wherever he went. Gabe’s big number was the lively “I’m Alive,” yet his other, softer song, “There’s a World,” just ruined me; it was the climax of the first act and it was completely heart breaking. The moment when Doctor Madden (Sean Doolittle ’16) reveals that Diana attempted suicide as Gabe leads Diana up the theatre stairs and into light was definitely one of the most powerful in the play.

Alec Nevin, who played Natalie’s boyfriend, Henry, was also a great casting decision. Henry, “a bit of a stoner” in his own words, was like a really eager, loveable puppy, and it was apparent that Nevin’s charm fit the bill. His persistence in looking out for Natalie was heartwarming, and the two of them (Nevin and Heyman) had excellent chemistry on stage. And last but not least is the only Cornellian actor, Daily Sun Arts and Entertainment section’s very own Sean Doolittle ’16 as Doctors Fine and Madden. While his role was mostly limited to speaking in a soothing and clinical voice, he got to do his fair share of singing. One of the funniest parts of the show, though, belonged to Doolittle: when Diana imagined her doctor as a “scary rock star,” he acted like one under pink and green lights, which quickly switched back to normal with his persona.

Wonderful cast aside, next to normal was an interesting and riveting show. Since I had never even heard of the play, the twists and turns hit me like a truck each time. Every scene, every note was captivating. What I found most impressive was the way next to normal gets to the very core of emotions that everyone (regardless of their particular familial or general life situation) experiences on the daily, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. The very first number, during which every member of the family sings about what hurts them as they go through their daily morning routine, set the tone for the whole musical. The rawness of next to normal is startling, comedic and frightening, but ultimately wraps up with an ending both bittersweet and uplifting. next to normal is a terrific play, and the cast and crew at Risley certainly did it justice.

  • anono51

    This is just…wow.

    First off, it follows the classic paradigm of modern feminism-that is, to incite strong emotion and anger without providing any actual evidence of this amorphous “oppression.” Which is to say, you can’t provide any such evidence because it isn’t there. It seems to me that anything written by feminists simply skips over this little logistic issue.

    Next we’ll consider this society as a “haven for rich, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied men.” The rich, I’ll give you. Able-bodied, sure. But the sheer hatred with which you label this group of people as a whole proves that being included in this group isn’t as perfect as it might seem. Clearly, they face some discrimination-namely, from you. So don’t blame the white heterosexual men for hurting your “social justice” campaign. No, the burden of this failure is all on you. By villifying an entire group of people, most of whom do not benefit in the least from this unproven, abstract patriarchy, you are assuring that they do not support you, and in fact will most likely learn to oppose you.

    Detach yourself, for a moment, from this blind rage against an entity you don’t quite understand, and think objectively. Gender roles are ingrained in us by millions of years of evolution, and obviously overcoming them will be difficult. I’ll agree, though, that it is something we should certainly work towards. But, in order to make progress, we have to acknowledge that these gender roles have hurt both men and women, in different ways, and work towards fixing every inequality, not simply the ones that would be beneficial to us. So sure, we need to insure that women can achieve power and place themselves on an equal footing with men. We need to insure that they are paid fairly and equally. But there’s a downside to being equal. It means you can no longer be the special flower, who must be protected at all times by men. And, in theory, you should agree. But you know what this means? It means being included in the draft. It means splitting funds equally between men’s and women’s health. It means, therefore, supporting not feminism but equalism.

    I can tell you that signing up for the draft is not a pleasant feeling. It means accepting that your life is meaningless. And this feeling is only made worse when you walk around campus, and know that the life of every female you see is worth more than yours. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. So yes, I’m angry. I don’t know what you plan to do with your anger, as you’ve said already that you condone violence. So whether its going around to vandalize people’s cars, or just beat random men to death, I can’t say I’ll be surprised. Just try not to hurt anyone. Please. But in the end, I’m just taking your advice when I say

    Fuck you, and fuck your ideology.

    • EcoAdvocate

      Thanks Anono, I agree with most of this, but the last line doesn’t seem to agree with the message YOU are trying to convey.
      Here is a thought though. Would Martin Luther King, Jr have met with our President and members of Congress proposing Civil Rights changes, would the proposals have been seen as politically feasible had it not been for those in similar movements with very different strategies, like Malcolm X who were touting violence as the path to civil rights changes?

    • Liza

      Are you living under a rock? Gay people can’t marry. They get beat up and killed for being gay regularly. Women have 70% of the pay for the same job. They get raped. They get told they’re ‘bossy’ for speaking their minds. Oppression isn’t something most people take time to spell out because it’s so fucking obvious it’s there.

    • Augie

      First of all, props to Bailey for speaking their truth, knowing that a fucked up reaction like this would probably come up. Much respect.

      @anono51:disqus you sound pretty blind yourself.

      First of all, according to feminist theorists and activists like Audre Lorde or bell hooks, feminism advocates the equality of all genders and sexes, and I’d advise you to do some basic research before you state an opinion like that.

      Secondly, yes, white straight men (such as myself) may get discriminated against occasionally on a personal level, but you ignore the blatantly obvious societal structures that have accumulated over centuries to dominate women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, indigenous peoples, and any intersections of those identities. To name a few of those structures, how about:

      1. Police racism and racism within the criminal “justice” system, resulting in the well-known statistic that black males are 7 times more likely than white males to go to prison (US Dept. of Justice)

      2. The well-documented wealth gap between white and black families:
      http://iasp.brandeis.edu/pdfs/Author/shapiro-thomas-m/racialwealthgapbrief.pdf

      3. The fact that it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation in 29 states, and that transgender people can be fired or not hired based on their gender identity in 33 states
      https://www.aclu.org/hiv-aids_lgbt-rights/employment-non-discrimination-act

      4. As @Liza:disqus said, the pay gap for the same job between women and men, or the rates of rape and the identity of the vast majority perpetrators.

      Being hurt because other people are upset over the unearned privileges you hold is not the same as having faced these structures for generations. All men benefit from patriarchy, all white people benefit from racism, and all straight people benefit from heterosexism by being given sets of privileges denied to identities on the other end of those oppressions. There is plenty of scholarship on this if that’s what you’re after.

      Finally, your anger for having to sign up for the draft shouldn’t be taken out on women, or into denying other people’s pain. Why would you be angry at people who aren’t responsible for putting you into that position? Why not analyze the systems that actually are responsible, like militarism or the political reasons we actually fight wars? If we focused a little more on those in power, and tried to understand where people are coming from instead of denying the reality that people live every day, we might move towards a more just society.

  • Ganesha_akbar

    Anger is the prevailing zeitgeist animating Leftists today. As GatewayPundit famously reported, The Preezy of the United Sleezy certainly incites an epidemic of unhinged extremism on the Left.

    ** Obama: “They Bring a Knife…We Bring a Gun”
    ** Obama to His Followers: “Get in Their Faces!”
    ** Obama on ACORN Mobs: “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!”
    ** Obama to His Mercenary Army: “Hit Back Twice As Hard”
    ** Obama on the private sector: “We talk to these folks… so I know whose ass to kick.“
    ** Obama to voters: Republican victory would mean “hand to hand combat”
    ** Obama to lib supporters: “It’s time to Fight for it.”
    ** Obama to Latino supporters: “Punish your enemies.”
    ** Obama to democrats: “I’m itching for a fight.”

    #Punish

  • Luke

    What is this drivel- a rehash of a paper you wrote for your gender studies class? Just because you got an A (doesn’t everyone get an A in those classes) does not make it print worthy. I am angry because Cornell wastes money facilitating this nonsense. I guess I should smash someone’s head with a bat to make my point.

  • Chris

    This is a wonderful example of what happens whens someone stops mentally and intellectually maturing circa middle school. There was a time in my life when I might have written something like this, but then I turned 15 and got over it.

  • Liza

    “. We should be proud when we are angry because that means that we expect better and will fight for it.” a million times yes

  • Guest

    First of all, props to Bailey for speaking their truth, knowing that a fucked up reaction like this would probably come up. Much respect.

    @anono51:disqus you sound pretty blind yourself.

    First of all, according to feminist theorists and activists like Audre Lorde or bell hooks, feminism advocates the equality of all genders and sexes, and I’d advise you to do some basic research before you state an opinion like that.

    Secondly, yes, white straight men (such as myself) may get discriminated against occasionally on a personal level, but you ignore the blatantly obvious societal structures that have accumulated over centuries to dominate women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, indigenous peoples, and any intersections of those identities. To name a few of those structures, how about:

    1. Police racism and racism within the criminal “justice” system, resulting in the well-known statistic that black males are 7 times more likely than white males to go to prison (US Dept. of Justice)

    2. The well-documented wealth gap between white and black families:
    http://iasp.brandeis.edu/pdfs/Author/shapiro-thomas-m/racialwealthgapbrief.pdf

    3. The fact that it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation in 29 states, and that transgender people can be fired or not hired based on their gender identity in 33 states
    https://www.aclu.org/hiv-aids_lgbt-rights/employment-non-discrimination-act

    4. As @Liza:disqus said, the pay gap for the same job between women and men, or the rates of rape and the identity of the vast majority perpetrators.

    Being hurt because other people are upset over the unearned privileges you hold is not the same as having faced these structures for generations. All men benefit from patriarchy, all white people benefit from racism, and all straight people benefit from heterosexism by being given sets of privileges denied to identities on the other end of those oppressions. There is plenty of scholarship on this if that’s what you’re after.

    Finally, your anger for having to sign up for the draft shouldn’t be taken out on women, or into denying other people’s pain. Why would you be angry at people who aren’t responsible for putting you into that position? Why not analyze the systems that actually are responsible, like militarism or the political reasons we actually fight wars? If we focused a little more on those in power, and tried to understand where people are coming from instead of denying the reality that people live every day, we might move towards a more just society.

  • Andybob

    “Every girl is a riot grrrl and the world needs to see how hard we can swing that baseball bat into the next person’s head.”

    I assume that by “next person”, you are referring to a member of the white, heteronormative, cis-male patriarchy. You are a whiny and irresponsible man-hating bigot who is promoting violence as an appropriate response to everything that irks you. Show some respect for the humanity of all people, regardless of their sex, race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

    From one gay person to another, grow up, get some therapy and keep your offensive and dangerous opinions to yourself.