By Sabrina Khan *Warning – this article contains spoilers about the play* Next to Normal is a rock musical about a psychologically ill mother and the conflicts she faces as she and her family cope with her problems. The musical bursts with powerful language portraying the gravity of grief, frustration, depression, and love this family feels and shares.
Next to Normal was originally called Feeling Electric when it was conceived as a 10-minute sketch in 2002. The story then revolved around suburban mother Diana Goodman receiving electroshock therapy as her husband Dan and daughter Natalie react to it and its effects on her. This draft focused heavily on a criticism of the medical practice, instead of the family’s pain. It transformed into that much later with several changes through readings at different stages of its journey. And in 2008, Next to Normal was produced off Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre for the first time under its current name. Throughout the show, Diana undergoes many different treatments because psychological disorders often cannot be classified as single illnesses with simple labels. Each person experiences their conditions differently and is treated on a custom basis, often mixing drugs and therapy. On a particular tragic occasion, Diana has a serious breakdown and her doctor recommends electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is the standard course of treatment for drug-resistant patients who are imminently suicidal. One side effect of ECT is memory loss, which is a major point of contention in the story. Diana decides to go through with it, and though she seems to improve, she also suffers considerable amnesia. The treatment ends up solving little, and the show portrays only shows the downsides of the practice. Next to Normal so attempts to have a musical conversation about psychological disorders and the means to alleviate them through the breakdown of this family. It’s worth gaining a fair knowledge about the issues it discusses before going in blind to this heartbreaking production.