Next to Normal

Adrian Pang stars in Pangdemonium Theatre’s new play

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By Rong En

The play’s complexities creep on you, and one can be forgiven, given its seemingly simple title. If draggy dramas with suspiciously familiar story lines is not your cup of tea, give this show a go.

It is hard to infuse comedy into a tragedy, and in this case, the line between the two are blurred, with Pandemonium’s brilliant take on the Pulitzer Prize winning drama.

The concept of what exactly constitutes “normal” is explored in this musical through the various characters, who are part of a family on the verge of breaking apart due to the crushing effect of bipolar disorder suffered by Diane (Sally Ann Triplett), wife of Dan (Adrian Pang) and mother of Natalie (Julia Abueva).

In the production process, Pangdemonium interviewed sufferers of Bipolar disorder, each with diverse views on their experiences and the effects of medication on their illness. The confusing and complex nature of bipolar disorder makes a straightforward musical close to an impossibility.

The set is nothing but electrifying (literally!) and the repertoire of songs veer between poignant and haunting, complementing the various turmoils that the family go through.

Rather than glamorizing insanity as a form of genius, Pangdemonium exposes the raw and genuine side of how patients and the people around them cope with the decapitating illness that is fraught with social stigma. Comic relief does not only provide a welcome departure (if temporary) from the heightened tension in the musical, it also subtly sheds light on the hallucinations caused by Bipolar Disorder

Ultimately, the audience is led to question and compromise on their definition of “normal” and maybe, just maybe, all is well.