Review: ‘Normal’

O.K, let's wrap this one up and send it out where it can do the most good. Despite the downbeat subject of this message-heavy musical, Transport Group's sensitive take on teenage anorexia could lighten the load on any family caught in the destructive spiral of a child with an eating disorder.

O.K, let’s wrap this one up and send it out where it can do the most good. Despite the downbeat subject of this message-heavy musical, Transport Group’s sensitive take on teenage anorexia could lighten the load on any family caught in the destructive spiral of a child with an eating disorder. Jack Cummings III’s severely stylish production addresses the entire family dynamic, using the intimacy of confessional songs to examine the complex psychological factors that compel a “normal” child to starve herself to death.

Cast adrift on John Story’s stark white set of vertical flats and stripped bare of all defenses by R. Lee Kennedy’s needle-nosed lighting, the Freeman family has nowhere to hide from the truth about itself. But that doesn’t stop the Freemans from denying that something is seriously wrong with the family.

In the show’s searing opening number, “Happy Family,” Gayla Freeman, her hysteria barely under wraps in Barbara Walsh’s strong perf, leads her spineless husband and screwed-up kids in a dissonant musical declaration that everything is just perfect in their ideal family.

Forget that Robert (Adam Heller) has given up on playing his paternal role (“Father Fantastic”). Don’t think about the pressure on Gayla to find a job outside the home (“Racing”). Ignore young Zachary’s (Nicholas Belton) attempts to talk about things that are upsetting him (“Breaking Things”). And for God’s sake, don’t anybody mention that Polly has stopped eating and is spending all her time alone in her room (“Pretty to the Bone”).

The spare but articulate score provides a musical release for each character to drop the burden of denial and open up. These individual moments are painful, and the collective impact is devastating — bearable only because Yvonne Adrian’s book takes such care to go beyond the pain to offer real insight into the family dynamics behind Polly’s seemingly irrational behavior.

Does this show resolve anything? Not really, and the ending is a real emotional cliffhanger. But it’s rare to see such a compassionate, nonjudgmental attempt to examine why some families refuse to acknowledge that anything is amiss in their domestic paradise — and why some children just can’t swallow that lie.

Normal

Connelly Theater; 88 seats; $19

Production

A Transport Group presentation of a musical in one act, with book by Yvonne Adrian, lyrics by Cheryl Stern, music by Tom Kochan. Directed by Jack Cummings III. Musical direction, John Di Pinto; orchestrations, Tom Kochan. Choreography, Scott Rink.

Creative

Set, John Story; costumes, Kathryn Rohe; lighting, R. Lee Kennedy; sound, Seth Guterman, Ray Schilke; production stage manager, Rebecca Yarsin. Opened Oct. 30, 2005. Rev. Oct. 29. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast

Gayla Freeman - Barbara Walsh Robert Freeman - Adam Heller Zachary Freeman - Nicholas Belton Polly Freeman - Erin Leigh Peck Woman #1 - Nancy Johnston Woman #2 - Toni DiBuono Woman #3 - Shannon Polly
Musicians: Marc Schmied, Manny Moreira, Greg Landes, Jimmy Ercole, Christopher Hoffman
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