If cleanliness is next to godliness, then dysfunctional families must be next to normal. They’re front and center in Next Door’s smart and funny NEXT TO NORMAL (playing through Jan. 25th). The Brian Yorkey/Tom Kitt musical about mental illness is hip and sardonic, especially with its savage take on what passes for sound psychiatric treatment.
Director Brian Milauskas and music director Mario Cruz have a top notch cast to deliver the rock n’ roll and to bring out the humanity and suffering in the story. Some productions concentrate on the humor and lose the pathos. Not at Next Door. Becky Ruccio portrays the hapless housewife and mother who may be bipolar. She’s definitely depressed, poor thing. She’s so unhappy that even making lunches for her daughter and husband becomes an ordeal.
Doug Jabara gives one of the best performances of the year as her desperate, perplexed husband. Jabara could give a master class on stillness: When his heart is completely broken, he just sits without moving. And we feel the pain. (He sits, I should point out, on a modern kitchen chair with a design of holes cut out of the backrest, just like the gaping holes that threaten to swallow his whole family, a nifty touch by set designer Milauskas.)
Jared Walsh’s tour de force as the son, whose presence propels the family’s breakdown, is one of the best reasons to see the show. He’s charismatic, he’s compelling and can he rock a lyric! Sarajane Mullins Pompeo gets nifty laughs as the sister everyone has forgotten about and Sean Mitchell is charming as her goofy, would-be boyfriend.
Milauskas plays down the “bad medicine” scenes so in this production we get a caring shrink, which Brian DeLorenzo deftly conveys (and he gets to be a breakout “rock star” psycho-pharmacologist in the wife’s Xanax fueled imagination).
Yorkey and Kitt tack a happy ending onto their musical which really doesn’t fit but the cast looks relieved, and we certainly are, when they sing the joyful, hopeful “There Will Be Light.”