DC Metro Theatre Arts: Next to Normal

Post-Play Palaver

IMG_0805The beauty of Kari Ginsburg’s performance as bipolar wife and mother Diana Goodman is that she herself almost seems gifted with extrasensory perception. “What am I doing with all these crazy people?” she appears to wonder, as she stares despairingly at her therapist, or her husband, or her daughter. She is too big a personality for the tiny box she has been placed in.

Her husband Dan (Chad Wheeler), too, is trapped. Being forced into (or choosing) a caregiving role because of his wife’s illness, has drained all the passion out of him. He is a faithful, honorable husband, but he has become an empty shell. And she, perhaps rightly, resents being pushed into the role of The Problem, even if she is one. Their relationship has been hollowed out by this tragedy, preceded by an even earlier and more devastating tragedy in their lives.

Their daughter Natalie (Caroline Dubberly), invisible to her mother, has turned to personal achievement as a kind of solace. It does not save her. But what does save her, to the extent she can be saved, is love.

The pain of these characters is palpable, but what makes the production so breathtakingly absorbing is the omnipresence of love; as a healing presence, as a source of torment, and as the ultimate gift we can give to another person.