Murder Ballad (directed by Cameron Krane ’17) is just what you want out of a Friday night as Risley Theater. It’s fun and exciting, a little bit messed up, well executed and small-scale. The musical has four main characters — a woman, her two love interests and a narrator. It’s a fairly typical New York City love triangle. Sara (Ana Carpenter ’19) is stuck between the respectable NYU poet and the sketchy downtown bartender.
Like Hemingway’s profound narrative on the destructive perplexity of war, or like Kubrick’s cinematic interpretations of subconscious struggle, Shakespeare’s tragedies possess an infinite relevance that will always characterize some portion of the human condition. Indeed, so long as individuals experience the dismay of death or the anguish of stifled romance, Shakespeare’s verse will continue to find a presence among stages and English curricula around the world. Many contemporary performances of his plays, while retaining the same lines and structure, adapt the work to a more modern setting; one notable example of this practice is Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet, a splendid cross between sixteenth century and twentieth century 90’s culture. This is precisely the route that director Christian Brickhouse ’17 followed in Risley Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar. Rather than being left to unfold in the ancient and grand obscurity of the Roman Empire, this iteration of Julius Caesar is set in the United States during the year 1919.
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.