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The Pitch

Rock musical Next to Normal moves 



Next to Normal
Through November 18 at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central (in Penn Valley Park),

The small She & Her Productions has taken on this month's other production of a Pulitzer-winning drama, this one a rock musical that picked up three Tony Awards.

Next to Normal (book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt), directed by Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert, arrives on the heels of the touring Broadway show, which came through Kansas City in June and played the Kauffman Center. That's a tough act to follow, but this is a moving, funny play no matter where it's seen, or how often.

With 37 musical numbers and seven musicians (directed here by Jim Vinkenberg), the two acts (and two and a half hours) are no small undertaking. The very competent live band hits all the right notes, but their volume often overpowers the dialogue and lyrics, even with miked actors. And that's a shame because those actors render the songs beautifully.

The plot follows a nuclear family confronting a member's chronic bipolar disorder. Diana Goodman (Kristin Leathers) suffers the manic-depression. Her husband, Dan (Robert Hingula), hopes treatment brings healing. Teenage daughter Natalie (Deanna Mazdra) feels her mother's neglect. And adolescent son Gabe (Daniel Beeman) vies for attention. Doctors (Graham Fairleigh) and Natalie's boyfriend (Matthew King) add dimension to the story.

Dan holds this family together, and Hingula (a lawyer by day) centers this production as well in a sensitive portrayal of a husband who loves his wife and wants their life to return to the way it once was. And Beeman's Gabe lends a powerful presence. Some of the script's demands are difficult to pull off, but it's next to impossible not to feel the impact of this Next to Normal.


Onstage in the River Market:
Orange Flower Water 

by Deborah Hirsch
click to enlargeAndy Penn (left), Helena Cosentino (in back), Alli Tunnell and Doug Dresslaer - Impressions Photography
  • Andy Penn (left), Helena Cosentino (in back), Alli Tunnell and Doug Dresslaer

Orange Flower Water
Through February 18 at River's Edge Theater,
122 West Fifth Street,

Front and center on the small stage at River's Edge Theater rests a double bed, on and around which two couples — well, three — revolve. It's a fitting set to portray the story of two marriages disrupted by an affair.

The four characters in Orange Flower Water (directed by Doug Ford) experience the love, anger, lust, disgust, passion, apathy, confusion, desperation and hope found in romantic bonds and their dissolution. If that sounds intense, it is. This isn't an easy play, and it isn't necessarily a cathartic one, but it isn't without reward.

The one-act begins slowly, with each of the cast members meandering by the bed, lingering over it and the memories it holds. Each actor then sits on a chair at the side of the stage. It's an effective setup. They unobtrusively wait for their scenes, maintaining the mood while observing the action before them — or, during more intimate or difficult moments, averting their eyes.

At the start, Cathy (Helena Cosentino) is blissfully unaware that her husband, David (Doug Dresslaer), is having an affair with Beth (Alli Tunnell). Does Beth's husband, Brad (Andy Penn), suspect? Brad's unsettling scene with David along the sidelines at their kids' sports match makes you wonder.

The scenes jump from monologues to dialogues, from lovemaking to confrontation. Breakups can be ugly, and partners ready to move on aren't always nice. Those left behind must struggle to understand.

In some cases, the audience struggles, too. It's a complicated intersection, sex and love, that Orange Flower Water addresses. (At one point, Beth asks David if it's just about the sex. Is it?) While the play takes on the pleasure and the pain of relationships, it doesn't always make clear what's wrong in the marriages, why characters have fallen out of love (or if they ever were in love), and what has finally driven them to leave spouses and children.

At the dress rehearsal I attended, the nonequity cast was hardworking. Penn, as Brad, was particularly affecting, moving from anger to pleading and back, sometimes within the same scene. He makes Brad's pain apparent in a heartwrenching monologue spoken to Beth.

Craig Wright's 90-minute play starts to feel long toward the end, and some emotional transitions come too abruptly and don't ring true. Yet I wanted to see what a character's next decision would be. (Here, as in life, choices aren't usually logical — just like the reasons that couples break up or get together in the first place.) Wright's resolution ultimately is too tidy, wounding a play that otherwise stays true to its considerable hurt. Even so, the small She & Her Productions has ambitiously taken on a big subject. Its execution isn't completely successful, but it's a worthwhile, hopeful endeavor.

Orange Flower Water  

The Shape of She & Her

When: Fri., Feb. 10, 8 p.m., Sat., Feb. 11, 8 p.m., Mon., Feb. 13, 8 p.m., Fri., Feb. 17, 8 p.m. and Sat., Feb. 18, 8 p.m. 
Price: $8-$12

Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things was the first show for the fledgling local theater company called She & Her Productions, made up of artistic director Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert and producer Jennifer Coville-Schweigert. The play was staged in June 2010 at the Emerald Space in the West Bottoms. After sold-out shows, the operation moved to the River's Edge Theater (122 West Fifth Street, 816-405-9200). Its latest, Orange Flower Water — starring Helena Cosentino, Doug Dresslaer, Alli Tunnel and Andy Penn — goes on at 8 p.m. (part of a run that also shows February 10-11 and 17-18). Tickets cost $8-$12; see sheandherproductions.com for details on the play and the company's monthly cabaret performance at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 12.

We caught up with Garrison-Schweigert to find out more about this independent, nonprofit theater company, which casts its ambitious eyes to Shakespeare and Urinetown and beyond.

The Pitch: What's different about She & Her Productions compared with the other theater companies in town?

Garrison-Schweigert: Our mission statement says that we are dedicated to the creation of quality and diverse theatrical performance art. Our goal is to entertain and educate in a unique and accepting environment, which embraces and encourages diversity in our community, thus enriching the culture.

What made you decide to produce Orange Flower Water?

Last year, we put out a call for directors for the 2011-12 season. We wanted area directors to come to us with bucket-list shows that they have always wanted to direct but that no other theater in the area would produce. Local Doug Ford submitted Orange Flower Water. We were blown away with his excitement to direct a show that is extremely edgy and unique.

Finish this sentence: "She & Her typically produces plays that skew toward ..."

Great plays that are not produced enough! We try to produce a favorite or two each season, of course. But it is very rewarding to do some unknowns in the theater world and surprise individuals that think they have seen it all.

— Berry Anderson